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‘Brother, I need a hug’: SBTC DR volunteers sharing love of Christ in wake of Hurricane Ian

Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers pose in front of a sign made for them by Florida kindergarteners, thanking them for coming to help in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

FORT MYERS, Fla. (BP) – The Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers working at McGregor Baptist Church serving Hurricane Ian survivors had a 5,000-gallon truck full of potable water and plenty of electricity from generators to power the mass feeding unit they operated.

But they needed ice.

A lady from the church knew someone who knew someone and within a few days, a local businessman provided 200 pounds of ice, easily available in normal times. But little is normal in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane like Ian.

A law enforcement officer pulled up near the yellow-tented feeding operation two hours after the ice arrived.

“I’m looking for ice,” he called out to the group of SBTC DR volunteers gathered outside the tents. The crew had just finished preparing more than 5,000 meals to be distributed that day to survivors by The Salvation Army.

The officer emerged from his vehicle and told volunteers his story.

“He looked exhausted,” said DR chaplain Debby Nichols of DeKalb, Texas.

“He was broken,” said feeding unit director Irvin McWilliams from the Unity Baptist Association in Lufkin, Texas.

The officer was not only a homicide detective but also a rescue diver who had been recovering bodies of Ian victims. The gruesome scenes had overwhelmed him, as had the fact that several looters had been shot by police.

“Brother, I need a hug,” the detective told McWilliams.

The SBTC DR volunteers surrounded him, prayed for him, listened to him, and, of course, gave him ice – a whole chest full when he had merely wanted enough for a small personal cooler.

“It’s a mess out here,” McWilliams said.

In addition to preparing thousands of meals since Oct. 4 as the waters have receded, SBTC DR volunteers in the Fort Myers area have visited survivors, assessed their damaged homes, offered spiritual comfort, and arranged for recovery assistance. Shower and laundry units are also staffed by SBTC DR volunteers.

“We’ve done a lot of laundry,” said volunteer Shirley Spencer of Spring, Texas. “Satan has been alive and well in this camp. We’ve had one mechanical breakdown after another. But God has been good. We’ve kept on going and gotten it done.” Spencer said they had “probably averaged 15 loads per day” since their arrival Oct. 2. Most of the laundry has been for rescue teams, DR volunteers and truck drivers bringing in supplies, water, and fuel.

One survivor with whom Nichols prayed while accompanying a team of assessors told a harrowing story of how she and her husband escaped with their lives. Like so many in Fort Myers, the couple had not expected to experience the brunt of the hurricane and had remained in their home.

As water rose precipitously, the woman climbed atop kitchen cabinets and then into the attic. With her first step in the attic, she broke through the sheetrock flooring and fell back down to the kitchen, badly spraining her ankle and compounding the trauma.

Still, she was grateful to be alive and, as a believer, appreciated the opportunity to pray with other Christians, Nichols said.

The McGregor Baptist feeding operations will continue with volunteers from New Mexico and Arizona manning the SBTC DR equipment as Texas volunteers return home, many to deploy again as needed.

“We’ll come back at some point,” McWilliams said, complimenting the smooth transition among SBDR teams rotating in to relieve their colleagues.Meanwhile, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief recovery crews from across the nation – including Texas teams – are now also serving in Florida, mudding out homes, removing soaked sheetrock and belongings, and spraying anti-mold treatments.

Two SBTC recovery teams have recently arrived in Florida, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. He also confirmed that mass feeding operations staffed by SBTC DR volunteers supporting the Red Cross have ceased at Riverside Baptist in Fort Myers, but Arkansas Baptist DR workers are using the Texas equipment to prepare meals for their own volunteers. The Riverside site is expected to close entirely and be integrated into the McGregor Baptist operation by Oct. 22.

“I am grateful for our yellow cap volunteers who drive halfway across the country to serve and share the Gospel with Hurricane Ian survivors,” Stice said.

Donate to Hurricane Ian relief efforts here.