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Baptist volunteers busy in Baton Rouge

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–At the drive-through for a hot meal from a Southern Baptist feeding station, a woman said to a volunteer, “The Southern Baptists are always here when we need them….”

Many of the volunteers with the Louisiana feeding unit in Baton Rouge -– operating from a vacant field next to the Salvation Army headquarters in the state capital — set aside their own personal loss to join the team of responders.

Three other Baptist feeding units also were stationed in Baton Rouge — and 12 in all statewide — representing Louisiana and several other Baptist state conventions.

For the Louisiana unit in Baton Rouge, working in cooperation with the Salvation Army, meal counts have been increasing with every meal. As Salvation Army trucks carry meals to distribute, they are finding a climbing need for food and water in the early days of recovery from Hurricane Gustav’s impact on the city Sept. 1. Food prepared by the Baptist unit is being distributed by the Salvation Army in as many as 15 different locations to families and relief workers.

The Louisiana team’s task has not been without challenges from fuel shortages, location changes and rain. Yet, focused on serving others, team members share with people they are there to share Christ’s love.

On site with the Louisiana team are two chaplains to help families who come to the drive-through and need assistance. Frustration continues as power remains out in many parts of the city. “I have no water, no food, I need help,” said one man who walked by the feeding unit site. Chaplains pray with families, share the Gospel and provide them with information on where they can find assistance.

Among other units in the state:

— An Arizona Baptist feeding unit arrived with a trailer packed with food normally used for distribution in Arizona border towns. However, Jose Manuel Castro, pastor Gethsemane Baptist Church in San Louis, Ariz., wanted to help with the disaster relief efforts, so he and two church members drove the truck to Baton Rouge, unloaded it and headed back to Arizona.

— From Virginia, a first response team of 49 Baptist volunteers set up at Istrouma Baptist Church. The team consisted of feeding, chainsaw, communication and shower units and chaplains.

“People in the drive-through would thank us. With tears in their eyes they’d say, ‘You helped us out in a time of distress,'” Shirley Beaton of Newsons, Va., recounted. The chainsaw crew assisted several seniors, including the home of an elderly woman where a tree had fallen onto her carport. “They helped me do something I could not do, I’m so thankful,” the woman said.

— From Oklahoma, a Baptist feeding unit set up at Florida Blvd. Baptist Church, which had sustained significant roof damage.

A woman walked up to the Oklahoma group during a devotional time and asked what they were doing. Sensing she needed prayer, the team prayed for her and asked about her house. A large tree had fallen and become tangled up with the power lines next to her home. While the team was not able to tackle the job due to safety hazards, ministry opportunities abounded when they ventured to her neighborhood to offer help to the residents there.

“We’re here to show Christ’s love, be servants and witness to the lost using chainsaws as our tool to open doors,” said Oklahoman Steve Cabler of First Baptist Church in Bartlesville.

Elsewhere in Louisiana:

A number of churches face woes from roof damage, mud and structure damage from Gustav’s wind gusts, in an eerie resemblance to the damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the southern tip of Louisiana in 2005. Among the hardest hit are Live Oak Baptist Church and First Baptist Church’s NorthWestern campus in Houma.

In Live Oak, “marsh mud” poured into the church’s auditorium. Mud-out crews cleaned much of the mud from the building. However, many more hours of labor are needed to fully clean up the church. The parsonage next door also received damage from flooding.

In Houma, the NorthWestern campus lost nearly the entire roof of its worship center to Gustav’s gusts, which also left the steeple hanging as if by a thread.

In Golden Meadow and numerous other communities, significant wind damage is evident at homes and businesses. William O’Neil, pastor of First Baptist Church in Golden Meadow, expressed concerns for the community. “More than 90 percent of the people need to be reached with the Gospel and most of them have some kind of storm-related need,” he noted.

As O’Neil drove past a small home with a tarp flapping in the wind, he said, “That’s a member of my church. Ten people are living in that home right now.”
Stacey Billger is the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s missions media strategist. For more information on how you can assist with disaster relief efforts in Louisiana visit www.LBC.org.

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  • Stacey Billger