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Arkansas Baptists rally to aid flood victims; Missouri Baptists clarify volunteer needs

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Arkansas Baptists have been known for their disaster relief feeding teams and chainsaw teams that offer aid following tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms and other disasters. But they have no mud-out teams to call on when their state is inundated with flooding.

That did not stop them from assisting flood victims following recent torrential rains and storms that damaged hundreds of homes and prompted their state’s governor to declare nearly half of Arkansas counties disaster areas.

Local Baptist churches and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention began seeking volunteers as the floodwaters kept rising. Paul Lancaster, pastor of Foothills Baptist Church in Mountain View, and Ray Brown, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mountain View, looked for ways to minister to victims of homes flooded by the White River, and they called for Baptist disaster relief teams to help.

By March 27, teams included the recovery team from the Arkansas Valley Baptist Association, along with teams from First Baptist Church in Heber Springs and Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock.

Volunteers worked with homeowners to clear mud, rip up carpet, remove furniture and belongings, remove wet sheetrock and insulation, tear out baseboards and damaged cabinets and help in any way possible.

“Disaster relief teams look for what needs to be done and do whatever is needed wherever it is needed,” Gary Henson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Helena and a leader of the Arkansas Valley team, said.

Foothills Baptist Church provided meals for volunteers and homeowners.
Bryan Wilkie, student minister at Foothills Baptist Church, led his youth group to assist in clearing the damaged homes. The teens, who were on spring break, worked tirelessly for days, he said.

“They came together as a team this week,” Wilkie said. “They have been excited about coming to help.”

Teams had cleaned out six houses by March 27, according to Joe Garner, director of missions for the Arkansas Valley association. They were planning to assist three other homes where owners had received no assistance and were ready to go into other areas if needed.

Clint Brannon, one homeowner they assisted, said he knew the river was flooding, but he did not expect it to come anywhere near his home, which was across the road from the high river bluff. He was so unconcerned, he said, he slept peacefully through the night as the floodwaters rose. At 8:30 a.m., March 20, he first noticed the water had reached his steps. He hurried to get his son and 81-year-old mother to safety. It was too late to drive their own cars out, but the highway patrol managed to evacuate them.

The water continued to rise. When Brannon was able to return, he found floodwater had been a foot and a half deep in his home.

“We are glad there were no injuries, but it was a lot of stress,” Brannon said. “I was just overwhelmed. I just walked around in circles, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t have made it without the Baptists who came.

“Now I can handle it,” he added.

Mike and Marty Keller’s home backs up to the river bluff. Their home had five and a half feet of water in it. They had about 20 minutes notice to get a few belongings and get out before the water reached the house. Even then, they almost were too late to get their car out as the road was flooding.

They did not return until March 25. Almost immediately, the Baptist teams began helping clear out their home.

“They did everything,” Keller said. “We just had to tell them what was salvageable and what wasn’t. About 95 percent wasn’t.”

“We can’t say enough about what they did,” Marty Keller said. “There just aren’t words.”

The state’s Emergency Management Department indicates that hundreds of homes have been destroyed or damaged in Arkansas and said the physical damage is expected to be well above the original $2 million estimate.

In Missouri, Rick Seaton, head of the state convention’s disaster relief teams, wanted to clarify that he is seeking volunteers from within Missouri to assist in flood relief there.

Baptist Press carried contact information March 26 for those interested in volunteering in Missouri, and Seaton said that while he is grateful for the concern, he did not intend for Baptists outside the state to respond. A call for that level of disaster relief assistance would go out through the North American Mission Board, he said.

Seaton reported March 28 that disaster relief teams were at work in Piedmont but had cancelled plans to respond in Poplar Bluff because the needs weren’t as dire as officials originally estimated.
Stella Prather is associate editor and Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, online at www.arkansasbaptist.org. With additional reporting on Missouri by Erin Roach of Baptist Press.

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