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Baptist volunteers ‘catch the fever’ to aid Hurricane Floyd flood victims

RALEIGH, N.C. (BP)–They come from Hendersonville and Charlotte and Mt. Airy, from Marion and Winston-Salem and Roxboro, from Aberdeen and Thomasville and Kings Mountain. They work alongside volunteers from South Carolina and West Virginia.

The great majority are Baptists, but there are Presbyterians, Methodists and Nazarenes contributing.

They take time off from work without pay, or volunteer their vacation time, or make their retirement days particularly productive.

These are the people who don’t forget, the people whose hearts hurt for the distressed, the people who put feet and hands to their prayers. These are the volunteers who are rebuilding hundreds of homes ravaged by floodwater that rose after Hurricane Floyd’s Sept. 16 appearance and remained for weeks thereafter.

Jasper Evans stands on the loading dock of a small warehouse leased by North Carolina Baptist Men in the quiet town of Burgaw, a few miles west of Interstate 40 and north of Wilmington. He points to long sheets of drywall, pink rolls of insulation and a room full of electrical supplies that have been donated to the cause or purchased with funds given by North Carolina Baptists.

In a bare office cluttered with paperwork and food supplies, Sue Evans works at record-keeping and the coordination of housing and meals for volunteers.

The Evanses are retired only in the sense that they don’t get paid for their efforts. They are fulltime volunteers who spent most of the past five years assisting with mission efforts in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Members of Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church in Charlotte, the Evanses have been on site in Burgaw since Dec. 1 and are committed to remain for six months. They work with members of local Baptist churches, such as Mt. Holly and Burgaw, whose members provide housing and assist with meals for volunteers. Some volunteers shower in a unit on wheels that sits outside the warehouse.

Because of the generosity of North Carolina Baptists, families in need may receive up to $1,700 in donated materials in addition to volunteer labor. Priority is given to families who received no insurance or assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In a double-wide mobile home off Whitestocking Road about eight miles east of Burgaw, a dusty crew is busily at work plastering and sanding Sheetrock. Earlier, volunteer crews gutted the house, replaced the floor and rewired the house. Crew members Mike Nelson, Bennett Cooke, George Wrenn and Chris West are from Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C. They are joined by David Bazemore and his son Scott, who are Methodist friends.

Nelson, the crew leader, took time off from his maintenance job at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute to spend the week after Christmas helping flood victims. He pointed to the ways he saw God at work.

“We were talking about beginning a ministry similar to this when I read about this project in the [state Baptist newsjournal] Biblical Recorder,” he said. “We were not planning to start until later, but we felt God leading us to get started now.”

Twelve people signed up to join the effort. “It was definitely God doing it,” Nelson said. “He brought the right people together, everything worked out and God put his seal of approval on it.

“You can tell God is in it,” he added. “I hate Sheetrock. I’d rather dig a ditch. But this week I’ve had joy hanging Sheetrock, so you know God is in it!”

Closer to town on Stag Park Road, pastor Ken Jones of Macedonia Baptist Church in Lincolnton, N.C., is wedged into a closet, fitting an awkwardly shaped piece of Sheetrock into a dark corner. He is there with church members Stephen Carter and Del Wallace. Wallace is a new Christian who was baptized Dec. 26 and spent much of the next week doing volunteer missions.

The Macedonia group is working on Bert and Jean Wheeler’s house. Bert Wheeler is retired and on disability. For the past 24 years, he has been the chaplain at the Pender County Correctional Institute and pastor of the Gospel Truth Mission Church.

At Roy Hand’s house on Highway 53, George Stephens of Pine Valley Baptist Church in Wilmington is leading a crew that includes Jack and Helen Sprinkle of Beck’s Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, Paul Ruppard of Setzer Creek Baptist Church in Lenoir and three volunteers from West Virginia.

Stephens is a veteran of many North Carolina partnership mission trips, including several to the Ukraine.

The crew has been laying plywood flooring all morning. Previous days were spent in another area doing demolition work in a mobile home park — tearing out wet Sheetrock and insulation, then piling it and other damaged materials on the roadside.

“It’s a real thrill to think you’ve contributed something,” said Helen Sprinkle of her joy in volunteer work. “It’s exciting to see things happen.”

The tiny town of Chinquapin also suffered severe damage from flooding, and many crews have been at work there. Coordinating the effort are local pastors like Robert Garbette of New Hope Baptist Church near Beulahville and Dan Sellers of Shiloh Baptist Church in Chinquapin. The churches also provide housing and meals for volunteers.

Six men from Zion Hill Baptist Church in Boomer, N.C., and another from Cub Creek Baptist in Wilkesboro have been building the foundation for a new sanctuary at Community Free Will Baptist Church. The old sanctuary was so damaged it had to be demolished.

The Zion Hill crew stays informed about mission opportunities through their Baptist Men’s organization and have worked in several partnership efforts, including trips to South Africa and to Graffitti House in Manhattan’s lower east side. This was their first disaster recovery trip, however.

Zion Hill’s Baptist Men director, Dennis Glascow, was joined by his sons, Adam and Andrew, and Charles Billings, Bob Johnson, Wade Collins and Nathan Osborne. Osborne, a young man doing hard and dirty work on his first mission trip, was quick to say, “I’d do it again if I had the chance.”

Jasper Evans, coordinator for the area surrounding Burgaw, was asked if any other church or relief organizations were doing similar or comparable work to assist flood victims. He chuckled and said, “There is no one, no organization, that compares with North Carolina Baptist Men.”

In Grifton, N.C., about 10 miles south of Greenville, many of the streets in and around town still resemble a war zone nearly four months after Hurricane Floyd’s once-a-century flood hit. Eight church buildings are unusable, and sand that had been on the bottom of the Neuse River now stands in mounds beside what is called Water Street. Mobile homes bow with bent frames, parts of their exterior walls missing, and at least one mobile home sits on its side.

But in the midst of the destruction, sparks of hope are shining. Many of these sparks are wearing yellow caps showing they are part of North Carolina Baptist Men’s relief effort.

During the week following Christmas, 250 people helped rebuild about 30 homes in the Grifton area where more than 300 flood victims have asked Baptist Men for help. They are all scheduled to be helped, a process, said coordinator Billy Tarlton, that will likely take two years.

Many of the mailboxes showing the street address for the homes were washed away, so yellow placards with a designation number have been posted on houses. As passersby see numbers like 56, 11, 16, 210, 189, the magnitude of the damage and the work needed becomes more real.

One of the flood victims is Kenneth Allen, who lives south of Grifton near the Lenior County line. His brick, ranch-style home is more than a mile away from the Neuse River, but the rising water on Sept. 17 forced him to leave. Floodwater kept him away for nine days.

Members of First Baptist Church in Grifton, where Allen is the janitor, have partnered with him to remove damaged furniture, carpet, flooring and Sheetrock. By Dec. 28, subflooring had been replaced and wallboard was being cut and installed.

“They have been wonderful, I tell you that,” Allen said. “There have been some wonderful people who have touched my life; things I thought I’d never see in a Southern state,” he said, referring to the way people have forgotten about race to show love to one another. “It’s been beautiful. … The wonder of the Lord. All this is his doing.”

Allen, who is living in a camper in his front yard, said he is ready to return to his home. First Baptist, Grifton, is doing more than partnering with Allen, however. The church opened its doors to volunteers from across the state. They sleep in the church. They eat in the church’s fellowship hall. Volunteers with campers park them outside the church.

“We’ve got ’em sleeping in the pews, in the choir loft, in the hall, just about everywhere,” said Tarlton, who, along with Barry Edge, serves as coordinator of the flood relief efforts in eastern North Carolina.

But even that space wasn’t enough for the mission blitz after Christmas. Some of the volunteers slept in the town’s old railroad depot and others slept in the rescue squad building. In addition to providing space for eating and sleeping, the church has conducted a worship service each night for the volunteers.

First Baptist typically hosts between 100 and 150 volunteers on weekends (Thursday night through Saturday night or Sunday), Tarlton said. Although the work is expected to continue for about two years, the church may not need to host volunteers every week. A sleeping quarters is being prepared in a 44,000-square-foot warehouse in the town that had been vacant since a manufacturing plant closed 12 years ago. Tractor-trailer loads of building supplies and furniture have been purchased or donated. National Gypsum, for example, donated wallboard valued at $250,000. And during the mission blitz, Dean Embler arrived with a load of vinyl siding, trim and soffit donated by Reynolds Aluminum and Vinyl of Winston-Salem.

Embler, who owns Buy-Rite furniture store in High Point, learned about the relief effort from Don Payne, a member of Trinity (N.C.) Baptist Church. Embler contacted Reynolds and got a friend who owns a trucking business to allow the use of the tractor-trailer. Since the flooding, Embler has gotten together trailer loads of mattresses, furniture and produce.

Payne, who is president of Guilford Fabricators, made his first trip to Grifton soon after Hurricane Floyd hit. He organized an effort to collect a load of supplies and then took them to Grifton, where he met Jimmy Uhl, pastor of First Baptist Church, Grifton.

“He [Uhl] told me when I was unloading those clothes I’d be back,” Payne said.

He has been back, as many as three times a week.

During a lunch break in First Baptist’s fellowship hall, Payne sat with fellow Trinity Baptist members Bob Wilder and Melvin Reece. Wilder had been to Grifton before. Reece was making his first trip. “He’ll catch the fever just like everyone else,” Payne said.

Trinity Baptist has partnered with a family whose home needed repair, Payne said. A church member has donated electrical work. A friend of the church has done the heating and air conditioning. Another person donated 150 2x4s, and the church purchased gypsum wallboard and insulation. Trinity’s WMU is going to have a shower for the partner family. The church also donated Christmas gifts.

“We get lots more out of it than we’re giving,” Payne said.

About nine of the 300-plus damaged houses in the Grifton area have been rebuilt. One of those belongs to Mabel Baker, who lives beside Grifton Chapel Church of Christ and about 50 yards away from a railroad track where the track’s bedding was washed away, leaving the rails hanging like clotheslines.

Baker’s white-siding house shines brightly in the midday sun. A red bow is tied to the porch beam and pansies line her front yard. Volunteers replaced the subflooring and flooring, installed wallboard, performed some electrical work and installed carpet, and provided furniture, double-hung windows and vinyl siding. The house is better than it was before the flood, Uhl said.

“God fixed it,” Baker said.

She received no funding from the federal government and $206 from the state, she said.

Her grandchildren wanted her to move to New York after the flood and live with them. “I’ve been up there visiting a while back. I don’t like it.

“They [N.C. Baptist Men] have taken care of me in the housing business,” she said. “I thank God, and I thank them.”

The flood has caused more than devastation to houses and church facilities. It has also brought the community together like never before. Members of Grifton Chapel are meeting at First Baptist. And five churches gathered at First Baptist for a Thanksgiving service, Uhl said.

“It has been a blessing for us … to know it isn’t a color issue, that God has a people. It just wouldn’t have happened without the flood,” Uhl said. “To me, it’s been a wonderful blessing.

“God didn’t send the flood. He did open a door to ministry and we’ve stepped

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