MINOT, N.D. (BP)–Amid North Dakota’s battles with rivers swollen by heavy rains and snowmelt, Southern Baptists’ footholds in Minot and Bismarck are finding traction for their witness.
“We have acted as a shelter the last week or so,” said Dan Andrus, pastor of North Hill Baptist Church in Minot, which, as its name indicates, is on high ground in the hilly city that grew on either side of the Souris River, also known as the Mouse River. At times during the year the river is ankle deep; now it’s more than 30 feet deep in places.
“I’m just trying to be sensitive to the needs of the folks around me,” Andrus said. “Right now it’s physical needs but later it will be emotional and spiritual needs.”
On the other side of Minot, pastor Ben Pierce of Cross Roads Baptist Church reported that several families stand to lose everything in the flooding that crested June 26.
Among them: a young military couple; the wife is eight months pregnant.
“They bought a home a year ago; it’s completely submerged under water,” Pierce said. “They’re really distraught.”
Pierce continued, “We have a gentleman with Parkinson’s [disease] who lived by himself in the same home for 23 years. He’s going to lose it all. We’ve got several families like that, including a family of five who are staying at the church.”
Both Andrus and Pierce also have evacuated from their homes, but neither is preoccupied with that. They’re too busy ministering among the Minot’s 41,000 residents. For both pastors — and church members who are lending a hand — this has involved sandbagging, moving belongings to safety (often up basement stairs) and listening with compassion as people mention with Dakota stoicism the losses they’re enduring. At least 4,000 homes – affecting about 10,000 people — are under water, some to their rooftops, in what is the worst flooding since 1881.
Andrus and John Miller, area missionary for the Prairie Partners Baptist Association, asked the Red Cross how Southern Baptists could help and were told there were not enough towels for the people staying at Red Cross shelters. The association immediately purchased 36 sets of new towels, and church members are adding to that daily.
It’s too soon to do mud-out of peoples’ homes and businesses — the water is likely to stay high until early August, though it is expected to drop two feet by Wednesday, easing stress on the levees. And it’s too soon for chain saw units to come in and remove waterlogged trees dying along the riverbanks. But disaster relief chaplains are needed to show Southern Baptist compassion as they listen to people, gain their trust and build relationships.
“The opportunities are limitless,” Pierce said. “There’s a lady who visited our church yesterday. When she needed to evacuate, no one from her church was willing to help her, she said. The people in our church did. She told our people she came [to Cross Roads’ Sunday morning worship service] because we cared and were willing to help. She saw the compassion in the families of our church willing to help her.”
Two Baptist disaster relief shower units — one for North Hill and one for Cross Road — arrived June 27-28, one from Omaha and one from Norfolk.
“I am excited to be up here, to be able to help, to be of service,” said Cecil Dale, director of missions for the Northeast Baptist Association in Norfolk.
“I even had a chance to do some good already today,” Dale said after a 12-hour trip and a good night’s rest. “A man came by the church [North Hills]; he had a totally flat tire and he didn’t have a jack. … I was able to talk with him and pray with him.” Dale and another church member also fixed the flat tire.
The Dakota Baptist Convention’s fledgling disaster relief program — one chaplaincy unit, with about 20 trained volunteers — has planned three-hour afternoon block parties June 29-30 in Minot — at North Hill on Wednesday and at Cross Roads on Thursday using the Prairie Partners’ block party trailer.
“We’re calling it a ‘Community Fun Day,'” said Fred MacDonald, who responsibilities include disaster relief ministry in the two-state convention. “Eighteen people from First Baptist Katy, Texas, are in Devil’s Lake this week. They’re coming over to help.”
It’s about a 100-mile one-way drive for the Katy group.
“I appreciate their willingness to help, and for Kansas/Nebraska to be sending three units to the Dakotas,” MacDonald said. “We’ve been hearing from disaster relief people from all over the country, letting us know they’re available and praying for us, and we greatly appreciate that. This is what being a Southern Baptist is all about: cooperation and help in time of need.”
Andrus got a look at his family’s rented home which had about two feet of standing water on Sunday. “The basement stuff is gone — washer, dryer, freezer — and all the garage stuff that we had yet to unpack and really put away from the move here [a year ago],” Andrus said. “But God is good and He is in control and will provide.”
Pierce and his family evacuated from their rented home in mid-May and, instead of returning to it, found a house on higher ground, which Pierce described as God’s provision. They’re living amidst boxes, but that’s the least of their concerns, said Pierce, who has served at Cross Roads two years.
“It’s a broad problem,” Pierce said of the wide-ranging flooding of the Souris/Mouse River. “It’s such a huge undertaking to find ways to adequately help people with needs. … It’s been almost a month of this already and we’re exhausted. … Ultimately we’ve seen God working through this whole process and we know He’s going to continue to do so.”
Prairie Partner’s missionary Miller requested prayer, as did each of the pastors.
“Please pray for all of North and South Dakota,” Miller said. “There is significant flooding from north to south and east to west. And this is not flash-flooding. … The cleaning — mud-out — phase will be huge.”
Riverwood Baptist Church in Bismarck evacuated its building May 29 as reports escalated of Missouri River floodwater heading toward Bismarck, a city of 61,000, and its across-the-river neighbor, Mandan, population 18,000. About 100 homes in the Bismarck area have been flooded so far.
Riverwood has been sharing space with Capitol Heights Baptist Church since its evacuation. Although Riverwood’s facility has not been flooded, pastor Todd Fuehrer has faced the challenge of keeping the church body together during a dip to 50 people in Sunday morning worship, 20 less than usual.
“Our small groups are continuing to meet,” Fuehrer said. “I’m noticing small groups have more built-in flexibility than Sunday School classes. … We’re starting to plan some events to get together, for opportunities for that fellowship to come back. Without Sunday School, church can be very sterile.”
Riverwood plans a Sunday worship service, potluck and games in a park on July 31 to “rub elbows, spend time talking about peoples’ lives,” Fuehrer said.
Otherwise, Riverwood’s usually full complement of summer activities is on hold, including “Kids’ Night Out” to give parents a break from 5-10 p.m. while their youngsters are fed and entertained.
“We do Upward Basketball and Cheerleading, which starts in mid-July … so we’re going to address going back to the building at the end of July, see where we’re at,” the pastor said.
“This has been a great opportunity to help our church body see they are the church, and not the building,” Fuehrer said. “This is going to be an excellent time for us to work on discipleship and build up spiritual maturity in the body.”
Fuehrer was the subject of a Bismarck Tribune news article on June 24.
“It was the Wednesday before the Memorial Day weekend that parishioners at Riverwood started following media reports on the rising river with alarm,” wrote Karen Herzog. The church’s name indicates the danger it was in.
“After moving all the unattached furniture into three members’ garages, they started sandbagging, working from Thursday to Sunday, constructing two rows of sandbags with a dirt filling and plastic cover,” Herzog continued. “On May 29, church members decided to close the building and relocate for the duration.”
Through the crisis, Fuehrer told the Dakota Baptist newsjournal, “I’ve been able to see the body universal [of Christ] help with us physically and financially, not just from our area but from across the country. It has really helped our people gain a sense of ‘this is us.'”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Dakota Baptist Connections and Louisiana Baptist Message newsjournals. Donations marked for “disaster relief” can be mailed to the Dakota Baptist Convention, P.O. Box 770, Sioux Falls SD 57701.