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Chain saw volunteers rev up witness to Katrina victims

SLIDELL, La. (BP)–A convoy of four pickup trucks and SUVs made its way through the back roads of rural Slidell, La., en route to the home of Andrew and Sadie May Cooper.

The Coopers’ home had survived Hurricane Katrina, providing adequate shelter as they weathered the storm’s howling winds inside.

“We were standing in there looking at the trees coming down,” Andrew Cooper, 81, said. They had been without power for days, and the Coopers were feeling the effects.

“We sure need it,” Andrew said. “We liked to burn up last night. It’s hard on old folks.”

While the Coopers dodged any water damage and suffered through the oppressive heat, trees were down everywhere, some on the roof of their house. That’s why the men in the trucks were there.

As the 19-man chainsaw crew from the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., unloaded, the buzzing of their saws soon drowned out the crowing of a rooster outside the Cooper home. The saws roared through the stuffy September morning, as some men cut trees into firewood and others cleared the Coopers’ driveway and yard of limbs and brush.

Southern Baptist chainsaw crews have been a common site along the Gulf Coast in recent days, forming one arm of the disaster relief efforts the SBC has launched to help residents put their lives back together.

“I’d say this is as good of a ministry as you could have,” Dick Jarrett, a volunteer from Faith Baptist Church in Chandler, Texas, said about the effectiveness of chainsaw ministry.

Jarrett worked with a chainsaw crew in Covington, La., and said the appearance of the crews at local homes always elicited a similar response from residents.

“They’re just so appreciative,” Jarrett said. “The tears are genuine. They just can’t believe that anybody would do that for someone they don’t know.”

Bill “Bear” Cline, a member at Bellevue Baptist Church and a student at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, decided to sit out from school this quarter so he could participate in his church’s chainsaw crew for a week. That decision came after he had helped minister to hurricane victims who came to his church for shelter.

“I felt like the Lord was calling me to do it,” Cline said. “My wife and I prayed about it, and the one thing we prayed was that I needed a peace and she needed a peace about it.”

One day Cline’s wife came to him and told him to go. That was all the affirmation he needed.

“I have a 4.2 grade average at Mid-America, and I probably would have flunked this quarter if I had stayed -– because I wasn’t doing what the Lord wanted me to do,” Cline said.

Ryan Mullins, also of Bellevue, told of a husband and wife his team encountered during their week in Louisiana. The chainsaw crew was pulling up to the couple’s house at the end of the day. It was 100 degrees and everybody was hot.

“There was a couple coming out, and they had just finished cleaning out their house -– gutting their house,” Mullins said. “You could tell they were torn up. They had a rough day, and they were about to leave to go to Atlanta. They had four trees down on their house and two others in their yard, and we started working on them. One of our guys got to lead the wife to the Lord.”

Kline had a similar story. The team was working at the home Bob Gates, who had just discovered that insurance wasn’t going to cover any of the damage to his property.

“He had about nine trees down on his property,” Kline said. “We … got everything done for him that day. He sat down and ate lunch with us — [both he] and his son.”

At the end of the day, a member of the Bellevue team led Gates to the Lord.

“He couldn’t believe we were there,” Kline said. “It was just one of those God things. He didn’t remember signing up for us to come, but he was on the list.”

Stories like that are what have convinced Jarrett of the value of chainsaw ministry. He has been on mission trips in 33 countries, but he’s never seen any type of outreach more powerful than what he sees from chainsaw crews.

“When you see how they appreciate it, we get a bigger blessing than they do,” Jarrett said. “They saw a sermon before they heard one.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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