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Baptists tackle Floyd’s flooding with ministry, witness & prayer

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (BP)–Folks in North Carolina might think Hurricane Floyd is a typo.
Hurricane Floyd quickly turned into Hurricane Flood after the storm hit Sept. 16, pushing thousands into shelters and leaving hundreds of others in their homes completely isolated by flood waters.
North Carolina Baptists were ministering and being ministered to throughout the eastern portion of the state.
In Rocky Mount, Englewood Baptist Church was buzzing with activity. Hot meals were being prepared and served, and supplies ranging from bottled water to toiletries were being unloaded from transfer trucks.
A Baptist feeding unit, two water purification units and a shower unit were at Tarboro High School in Tarboro.
At The Memorial Baptist Church, Greenville, volunteers dropped dumplings into oversized cookers. Others opened canned chicken to finish off the makings of chicken and dumplings.
Members of Seven Springs Baptist Church in Lenoir County prepared to meet in the local high school after the rising Neuse River flooded their sanctuary.
In Columbus County, Baptists helped to provide residents of Delco and other towns pumps to get water out of their homes and to salvage what they could.
Residents of the island of Crusoe were unable to reach their homes because of high water and two churches in the Dock Baptist Association were damaged. The island is near the South Carolina border.
Baptists all over the state were making the most of terrible situations.
When Donald Pope was called as pastor of Englewood Baptist in Rocky Mount, the deacons were seven weeks into the “Experiencing God” Bible study.
The church had already decided to build a fellowship hall on a tract of land about a half-mile away. During the study, though, they sensed a leading to construct a larger building with multiple uses, Pope said. They built a 27,000-square-foot facility with 14 classrooms surrounding an 17,000-square-foot open area which can be used for full-court basketball games and aerobics classes, as well as fellowship suppers.
On Sept. 16, the church found a new use for the building.
In the parking lot, eight feeding teams were preparing and serving hot meals. On Sept. 20 and 21 alone, 21,000 people were served meals from the eight feeding teams at Englewood.
Inside the facility, round tables usually used as dinner tables held piles of clothes sorted by size, unperishable foods and toys. People facing the loss of all of their belongings because of flooding were standing in line to receive clothing and non-perishable food. Within a week of the flooding, more than 2,000 people had been served.
The activity level was so high at the church that two people were directing traffic at the parking lot’s entrance.
Because the building’s gym has showers, it has been ideal for relief workers who sleep in the classrooms.
The distribution of clothing and non-perishable items at Englewood is being coordinated by Robin Taylor, the director of children’s ministry. Pope credits her, other staff members and the congregation for the effectiveness of the relief ministry.
Pope said he stood in a corner of the multi-use room and watched volunteers from his church. “There was a happiness and a joy in our people helping others,” the pastor said. “It was like you could see the river of love flowing from the people.”
The wear on the 3-year-old building hasn’t even been mentioned to Pope. In fact, some of the church leaders have seen how the building is designed well for relief work and have talked about the possibility of buying a generator. That would make the building usable during power outages.
“We want [the building] to be a tool,” Pope said.
J.D. Harrod, director of missions for North Roanoke Baptist Association, mentioned to Pope how effective the ministry offered at the multi-use building has been.
“You have touched a large portion of his city,” Harrod said.
Larry Hovis, pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville, said the flooding likewise has provided a good opportunity to minister to the community.
“Lots of positives have come out of the negatives,” he said.
A Missouri feeding unit arrived at Memorial Saturday, Sept. 18. The next day, the church canceled all its services except worship and helped set up the unit and serve the first meals.
“Our work was our worship,” Hovis said.
He said he believes floods are among the worst natural disasters, noting, “Give me a tree through my roof any day over a flood.”
Water from the Tar River reached far from its usual banks; at one time, the entire city was cut off, Hovis said.
“Greenville was literally an island,” he said. “You couldn’t get in or out any way.”
Not many church members suffered damage to their homes. “I feel that since we’ve fared so well, we’ve been blessed and we have a responsibility to minister to the community,” Hovis said. “It’s not only a responsibility. It’s a privilege.”
The ministering has not been without challenges.
There was no running water, leaving hundreds of volunteers and emergency workers using two portable toilets for several days.
Jim Pleasants, a Memorial member, said members and those from other area churches made sure the Missouri crew got a good meal every day.
“Everybody has pitched in and helped,” he said. “To me, it’s been amazing.”
The Missouri team likewise appreciated the hospitality from Memorial. “You can’t find a better Christian, loving people than you’ll find right here,” said Phyllis Gudde, a team member.
In 1996, saws were needed to clean up the thousands of downed trees after Hurricane Fran devastated much of North Carolina. This year, saws were replaced by water pumps and power washers.
Disaster team members from Columbus Baptist Association were busy helping residents of the Delco area remove water from their homes and salvage what belongings they could from flood waters.
“We’re in a swampy, low-lying area,” said the association’s director of missions, Rick Astle. “We have a very moist environment on an average day, so when something like this hits, we’re really in trouble.”
The Delco home of Martin Benton, pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Whiteville, was flooded and he and his family were left homeless, Astle said.
Benton, his wife, Theresa, and their granddaughter evacuated as the hurricane approached, then returned to their home to find everything they owned covered in five feet of water. Delco is between Whiteville and Wilmington on N.C. 74.
“I’m 6-foot, 3-inches and when I walked in and saw where the water marks were, they were up to my chest,” Astle said.
Another worry, he said, was for Fair Bluffs residents, especially Fair Bluffs Baptist Church, which is on the main street and across from the Lumber River.
By sealing the front and side doors of the sanctuary, as well as the ones leading to the youth building, Fair Bluffs members were able to keep the water out during the storm, said pastor Ray Lundy. But two to three inches accumulated under the sanctuary and a sump pump was working full time to drain it.
As the river overflowed onto the main street and into the church yard, only the side handicapped entrance was accessible.
“People could walk through water up to the front door, but no one can park there,” Lundy said.
The church had electricity, but Lundy was hesitant to turn it on. “Our church is very old,” he said, noting the loss of power and a town curfew canceled prayer meeting. But as the river level began dropping, he announced church services would be held Sunday, even if the lights could not be turned on.
“We have stained glass windows and will have enough light. We’ll have to go with the piano because the organ is electric,” Lundy said. “We thank the Lord it wasn’t worse.”
Astle was amazed at the number of volunteers who took time off from their weekday jobs to help, and the opportunities to minister in Jesus’ name.
“The volunteers took Bibles and tracts with them and will help first, then share Jesus verbally if the opportunity presents itself,” Astle said. “We want to let folks know we are doing this in Jesus’ name … our motive is the love of Christ within us.”
Dozens of volunteers were to meet Sept. 25 at the association’s Whiteville office to continue helping area residents in need, using a list provided by local emergency management officials.
“We have a medium-size trailer and we will be very busy,” Astle said. “We have a number of folks who have been through the official disaster relief training.”
While relief and recovery are necessary as flood waters recede and residents learn whether their homes are safe to occupy, Astle called on North Carolina Baptists to pray.
“Prayer does so much to lift the spirits and move the hand of God,” he said. “Not everyone can get down with their hands and feet [to help], but they can remember the families in prayer.”
About 10 families from Burgaw Baptist Church had homes damaged by the flooded Northeast Cape Fear River, said pastor John Michael Parnell. Some were staying in their homes to protect against looters, while other homes were still unreachable, he said.
“All things considered, we’re doing about as well as we can,” he said. “This is way worse than Fran.”
Some people lost everything they own, Parnell said, noting, “We’re right on the epicenter of a major catastrophe.”
Parnell saw some of the damage. “It’s like a nightmare – a surrealistic dream,” he said. “Intellectually, you can’t take in what you’re looking at.”
Burgaw church and other churches are trying to find help for people, he said.
“It boggles the mind when you have to deal with some of this stuff,” he said.
The rising river has caused 18 miles of flooding, Parnell said. The river crested about a week after the storm, but had not started receding, he said.
“This is one of the worst things that ever happened to this place,” he said. “We’re going to be dealing with this for months and months.”