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Baptists continue to pour into Fla. for post-Charley ministry

ALPHARETTA, GA (BP)–Barely a week after Hurricane Charley ravaged 25 Florida counties, killing 25 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless, without food and electricity, the national attention has moved on to other matters.

However, while the national attention moves to the presidential election, the Iraq War and the usual fare of celebrity news, Southern Baptist volunteers continue to pour into Florida, bringing relief and hope to hundreds of thousands.

“Southern Baptists have prepared over 350,000 meals in the last 11 days,” said Sandy Lenahan, who coordinates the national mobilization center located at the North American Mission Board building north of Atlanta. “We have more than 1,300 volunteers manning more than 130 units from 23 state Baptist conventions, and more are on the way.”

Southern Baptists are the third-largest disaster relief agency in the country behind the American Red Cross and Salvation Army with more than 28,000 trained volunteers ready to respond to local, state and national emergencies.

Ninety-year-old Betty Andrews of South Daytona, Fla., praised North Carolina Baptist volunteers who cleared trees from her roof and yard, patched her roof, removed spoiled food from her refrigerator, gave her money to replace the food and gave her a Bible signed by the crew.

“These Southern Baptists are amazing, absolutely amazing,” she said. “To see these people up on my roof sawing off a tree and fixing the hole is such a blessing.”

“If we didn’t clean-up Mrs. Andrews’ yard and her refrigerator, it might not be done for weeks,” said Tom Strickland, who presented Andrews with the Bible and pointed to each name as he identified the volunteers who worked at her home. “If you want to get a blessing, get some training and be ready to help in disaster relief,” Strickland said.

Sue Young, a fellow North Carolina volunteer, agreed that they are the ones who receive the blessings.

“We are here to help these people and to bless them in the name of the Lord,” Young said. “But just seeing the faces of the people we help means the most to us.”

David Wallace, another North Carolinian agreed. “Meeting the people is the best part of disaster relief. Everybody I meet is a blessing to me. The Lord has been good to me, so I try to pass it on to someone else.

“We witness to people, have prayer with them as we work on their house and property, and present ourselves in a Christian manner.”

Randy Powell, who, like Young and Wallace, is from Morgantown, N.C., is among the volunteers who have used vacation time to serve those affected by the hurricane.

“When I saw on the news that a strong storm was coming into Florida, I told my boss that as soon as I was called, I would let him know that I was taking my vacation to come down here and help out,” Powell said. “Just seeing the glow on the faces of people when somebody they don’t know comes to help them is reward enough.”

Bill Haynes, of Greer, S.C., also “banks” at least a week of vacation to serve in the Greer Baptist Association’s kitchen unit. “We are feeding hungry people physical food and spiritual food. When we have a chance, we always tell them about Jesus,” Haynes said.

Haynes explained another benefit is spiritual growth of the volunteers. “We’re often behind the scenes preparing the meals that others take out to the victims, so sometimes we don’t have much contact with them. But it’s a huge blessing to see our team members grow in service to the Lord,” he said.

Deb Day is another South Carolina volunteer who receives blessings from her service. “I came to Florida because Christ is so good to me and people need our help,” she said. “The greatest blessing for me is sharing Christ’s love with people.”

Donald Wilkerson, a pastor from Hillsboro, Mo., drove nearly 1,000 miles to volunteer in Florida. “The biggest reason I’m here is that people need help and my truck is big enough to pull our disaster relief trailer.”

Wilkerson made his disaster relief service part of his call to Sandy Baptist Church in Hillsboro. “When I accepted the call as pastor, they agreed to give me two or three weeks a year for revivals or disaster relief. Usually, I use it to volunteer for disasters,” Wilkerson said. “Even in the stores when local residents see the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief logo, I’m able to share Christ with them.”

Southern Baptist officials say the Florida response will be long-term. “We won’t wrap this up anytime soon,” said Jim Burton, NAMB’s director of volunteer mobilization. “This one will be a marathon.”

Contributions to Southern Baptist disaster relief may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to NAMB on-line at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to PO Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368.

For regular updates on Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts, visit www.namb.net/dr.

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  • Martin King