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As Hurricane Ivan heads toward Gulf Coast, volunteer kitchen crews resume Fla. relief

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–With Hurricane Ivan expected to make landfall along Alabama’s Gulf Coast region early Thursday morning, more than 40 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units remain on standby in staging areas in Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama.

Meanwhile on Sept. 15, two Florida mobile kitchen units had resumed meal preparations for victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances at Southside Baptist Church in Deland, Fla., and First Baptist Church Chiefland, Fla., while a mobile kitchen unit from Michigan was returning to First Church of God in Vero Beach.

The campuses of University of Mobile in Alabama and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary closed Sept. 14 in advance of Ivan’s onslaught.

About 35 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units from Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas are staged at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. And eight units from Louisiana and Texas are on standby at the Living Water Baptist Assembly in Covington, La. The Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Oklahoma Baptist conventions have units on standby in their respective states.

University of Mobile President Mark Foley, in a notice posted on the UM website, said, “The safety of our students is first priority. We want our students to have plenty of time to travel to their homes and make preparations for the hurricane.”

Addressing the student body at the Baptist-affiliated university, the notice advised: “Students living on campus are advised to evacuate the campus by Wednesday morning and follow the advice of local emergency management officials regarding additional hurricane preparations and evacuation. Students who remain on campus will be evacuated to the first floor of Weaver Hall by Wednesday afternoon, where they will remain for the duration of the storm. The university has ample food and water for many days, and members of the Student Development staff will remain with students on campus throughout a severe weather emergency.”

New Orleans Seminary was “virtually deserted” Sept. 15, except for security staff and other key operations employees, public relations director Gary Myers told Baptist Press.

A hurricane information flyer was distributed Monday, Sept. 13, to residents on the seminary campus.

Shelters “you may consider traveling to” were listed in Jackson, Miss., at Mission First of First Baptist Church; Tylertown, Miss., at Knoxo Baptist Church; and Clinton, Miss., at Camp Garaway, a Woman’s Missionary Union facility.

Both the University of Mobile and New Orleans Seminary were planning to post updates on the websites, www.umobile.edu and www.nobts.edu, and to resume classes Monday Sept. 20.

In Florida, feeding units initially were sent to the state after Charley hit the southwest section of the state Aug. 13. In anticipation of Frances, the mobile kitchens were pulled back to Perry, Ga., Sept. 1, and then returned after Frances hit Sept. 5, but this time repositioned to the hardest-hit communities along Florida’s east coast. On Sept. 11, feeding was suspended to remove volunteers and equipment from the projected path of Hurricane Ivan.

“I am so thankful for all the volunteers who have come to feed my people,” said Paul Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Punta Gorda. “It has been like a ghost town this weekend when Southern Baptists pulled out. This has been such a positive experience for my church.”

Recovery challenges still abound across Florida.

“The Lord has blessed us and now he is teaching us,” said John Mozingo, director of music and education at First Baptist Church of Tequesta, where Hurricane Frances had ripped a gaping hole in the roof, allowing rain to pour into the sanctuary through a high, hardwood ceiling. With a sense of urgency to minimize problems with mold and mildew, staff and members were yanking up carpet, taking out pews and carrying out hymnals, Bibles and other furnishings. The electronics in the sound room were rain-soaked and ruined.

Elsewhere, the challenges were even more daunting.

“The worst I’ve seen is First Baptist, Lake Worth,” said director of missions John Brackin of the Palm Lake Baptist Association. “They are talking about condemning the building.” The sanctuary’s roof fell and the steeple rocked back and forth allowing even more rain to pour into the flooded facility. The electrical wiring was waterlogged, Brackin said, and mold is rapidly growing, compounded by the loss of electrical power and air conditioning.

At First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, every room in the Christian development center, along with equipment in the wellness center, received water damage and the gym floor was buckling.

The Palm Lake associational office in West Palm Beach, located in a former church where five congregations had been meeting, also received heavy damage. Health officials posted a “do not enter” notification barring the congregations from using the building until it has been repaired. The association is covered by insurance but has a steep deductible of $40,000.

Even as reports of damages were mounting, Brackin said he was not disheartened. “I am concerned, but we have lost no lives. The church property belongs to God. It’s not our property, we are the caretakers. We will do what we can do, but we will do only what we can do.”

Brackin and his wife refused to evacuate during Hurricane Frances, putting to use their 12 years of foreign missions experience. Immediately after the storm, he began visiting churches, assessing damages, calling pastors in the association and helping at the feeding sites located at associational churches.

He said he had planned to stay even if Hurricane Ivan hit the community. “There are trucks that needed to be unloaded, food and bread that needed to be delivered. Someone needs to stay here and do what needs to be done,” he said.

Brackin praised the pastors in his association, noting that they stayed on the field throughout the entire crisis to minister to their congregations.

On the Thursday after Frances’ onslaught, Richard Englert, pastor of Palm Springs Baptist Church in Lake Worth, was up a tree — church member Dot Fravel’s avocado tree, to be exact, which was threatening to fall on the power lines in her backyard. The pastor had spent the week after the storm checking on church members and nearby residents, cutting down fallen trees and removing debris from yards.

Three weeks earlier, Englert had been in Arcadia, Fla., where he served as pastor at First Baptist from 1982-97, to help families after Hurricane Charley. Now he was putting his chainsaw to use closer to home, said his wife, Elizabeth. “At first I didn’t understand why he wanted the chainsaw,” she laughingly admitted. “But he has certainly put it to use in these past few weeks.”

Assessing their circumstances, she reported, “If the power got up, I think we’d be OK. But the lack of air conditioning and the inability to get supplies is just getting everybody down. The winds of this hurricane were not so bad, but it took so long to pass over, I think it has just beaten our people down.”

The Palm Springs church served as a feeding site staffed by disaster relief feeding and recovery volunteers from South Carolina. When the team first arrived four days after the hurricane, it was the first time many in the community had received a hot meal. They quickly began serving as 1,000 meals a day.

Other South Carolina disaster relief volunteers arrived at Central Baptist Church in Jupiter, looking like the cavalry. A dozen gleaming trucks, vans and trailers bearing yellow and blue South Carolina Disaster Relief stickers and emblazoned with names of the state’s associations — Charleston, Prosperity, Screven, Barnwell, Marion, North Spartan — lined the driveway and church parking lots.

A small army of 40-50 volunteers traveled to Florida, said Robert Jackson, men’s director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, who led the group.

Swinging a chainsaw on a huge oak tree laying across the church’s driveway, Heyward River of Bethel Baptist Church in Prosperity, S.C., had just returned from Amman, Jordan, where he and other Southern Baptist volunteers had distributed food to some of the half-million Iraqi refugees there. He was quick to come to Florida, he said, “because there’s nothing better than helping your neighbors.”

The South Carolina team arrived to help in the recovery on Tuesday night. Driving in a multiple vehicle convoy, a tractor-trailer rig had plowed into the rear of a church bus, slamming the vehicle in another team’s trailer and pickup truck. As a result, one woman was hospitalized and a team of feeding unit volunteers returned home. The trailer with equipment also was lost. The embattled team regrouped in Brunswick, Ga., where they spent the night before proceeding into Florida.

Days earlier as Hurricane Frances was churning in the Atlantic bearing down on Florida’s east coast, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief officials had chosen the Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center as the command center for aid efforts. But after Frances’ fury made the Florida Baptist Convention facility a disaster zone, Lake Yale went from hosting relief workers to becoming a place in need of its own relief.

Three days after the massive category 2 Frances lumbered across the Sunshine State, however, Lake Yale director Don Sawyer told the Florida Baptist Witness that the 289-acre facility is back at “100 percent” and ready to begin resuming normal operations, including hosting some 15 disaster relief teams scheduled to arrive at Lake County within a few days.

A two-minute video from the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board about the disaster relief efforts, available for viewing and download at www.NAMB.net, is appropriate for SBC churches to show during Sunday worship services to familiarize members with the ministry and to encourage prayer support for the victims and relief efforts. Gifts to help cover the escalating expenses of Southern Baptist efforts may be sent to state conventions, associations and churches involved in the response. Donations may be made online to the Florida Baptist Convention at www.flbaptist.org and to NAMB at www.NAMB.net.
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by Barbara Denman, James A. Smith Sr. & Lee Weeks.

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