WHITESBURG, Ky. (BP) – The Southern Baptist response to the devastating flash floods in Kentucky the last week of July continues, and volunteers from 16 different Southern Baptist state conventions have been engaged in the clean-up and recovery process so far.
The late July floods claimed at least 37 lives, caused millions of dollars in damage and left multiple counties in a state of emergency. Send Relief’s crisis response director, Coy Webb, visited the region this week.
“This event will have a longer-term negative impact than the December tornadoes that affected Kentucky last year,” Webb said. “With the tornadoes, most people had insurance that were affected, and areas impacted were not areas with widespread chronic poverty issues.”
With the current disaster, much of the population did not have flood insurance, Webb said, and many people living in some of the affected counties subsist on some form of public assistance.
“One leader said that these counties could be set back to depression-level poverty,” Webb said.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers have completed 97 flood clean-up jobs so far and served nearly 15,000 meals, many of which were provided through funding from Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists.
Each of the approximately 500 people per day who enters the food distribution line is presented with the Gospel and asked by a local chaplain if they would like prayer.
Karen Smith, feeding coordinator for Kentucky Baptist SBDR, is a leader in the response at Whitesburg, her hometown.
“This experience has been very emotional. I have former classmates, friends and family still living here,” Smith said through tears. “We’ve lost 37 of our friends here … and there are still many missing persons. Please pray for our people to have hope and that God will restore our joy.”
SBDR volunteers have come from Baptist conventions as far away as Texas, Pennsylvania/South Jersey and several states in between. They have established recovery sites at 10 locations, primarily churches, where volunteers stay each night and venture out to provide services to homeowners free of charge.
Send Relief has provided funding to support serving up to 5,000 meals a week to survivors and sent multiple shipments of supplies to support SBDR efforts and meet the needs of impacted residents. Those shipments have included mold remediation and personal protective equipment for those mudding out flooded homes. Crisis buckets and backpacks filled with food and cleaning supplies have also been made available to homeowners.
“We have seen 22 salvations so far through this. That’s good news,” said Ron Crow, SBDR director for Kentucky Baptists. “The ministry opportunities are huge. A lot of people that may not have wanted to talk in the past are wanting to talk and seeking our chaplains out. So, listening to people and listening to stories has been a big deal as we bring both physical help and the hope of the Gospel.”
Southern Baptist chaplains who are part of the National Guard have also been serving, helping to distribute food and water as they minister to members of the Armed Services and survivors. Captain James Detwiler, a Southern Baptist chaplain, has been embedded with the Kentucky Air Guard’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team as they assist local coroners and transporting the deceased.
Crow described how Southern Baptists coming together to serve in the crisis makes the SBC’s Cooperative Program, the financial system that supports Southern Baptist ministry efforts, visible. That’s something that Smith has seen while serving in Whitesburg.
“We always say that the church is not confined by walls,” Smith said, “and what is giving me hope right now is that we are seeing that in action.”
If you want to support the work of Southern Baptists in eastern Kentucky, consider a gift to Send Relief.