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Churches become post-Ike relief hubs

HOUMA, La. (BP)—-“When [John Boy’s] house was knocked off its stilts, he lost everything,” said pastor Marcel McGee at Grand Caillou Baptist Church in Houma, La.

Even so, McGee noted that the Grand Cailou attendee was among 20 volunteers at the church’s drive-through distribution of hot meals and cleaning supplies to Hurricane Ike victims.

John Boy was busily placing bottles of bleach in local residents’ car trunks while another church member was providing hot meals through the vehicles’ open windows. A deacon whose house took on six inches of flooding also was among the volunteers.

The church’s large parking lot with multiple entries makes the distribution point easily accessible, while its ample space is ideal for storage trailers for future rebuilding efforts. Within an hour, a pallet of bleach had been handed out.

Grand Caillou’s building sustained roof damage but was spared flooding, although water came within inches of entering the building.

Meeting the “critical needs” of the community opens doors for ministry for Grand Caillou and other churches in sections of Louisiana that are predominantly non-evangelical. As a car is in line for cleaning supplies, packets that include a New Testament and a tract are distributed.

McGee tells of a woman in the passenger side of the car, for example, who was thumbing through her New Testament as she waited in line.

McGee estimates that 20 percent of Grand Caillou members live in the hardest-hit section of town known as “Shrimpers Row,” where residents had to row or wade through the floodwaters in their initial attempts to salvage personal belongings after Ike’s Sept. 13 landfall.

Now, debris, ruined carpets and household items are piled on streets or in front of homes where, in many cases, water still stands.

At Coteau Baptist Church in Houma, boxes of supplies have lined the hallways, Sunday school classrooms have housed Tennessee Baptist volunteers and the state’s feeding unit has been in full operation in the parking lot.

Serving others, Coteau Baptist pastor Wayne Hunt said, is “a complete joy.” Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the church went through the Empowering Kingdom Growth from the Southern Baptist Convention — and spiritual growth ensued, including a heightened desire within the congregation for serving others.

Two weeks prior to Hurricane Gustav, Gibbie McMillan, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s men’s ministry and volunteer strategist, held a seminar on disaster relief at Coteau Baptist. A previously scheduled training Oct. 10-11 remains on the calendar. Even so: “People in the church are asking, ‘How can we help?'” Hunt said. Seeing an immediate need to be trained and to help, the church partnered with the on-site Tennessee feeding unit for a training session Sept. 21 for members intent on helping with disaster relief.

Church members also have helped with debris cleanup, and the youth have helped remove damaged furniture from flooded homes.

“It’s the thing to do…. Jesus tells us to help one another, and I just obeyed,” church member Robert King said.

After a public service announcement was aired on a local radio station about the feeding unit at the church and the distribution of hot meals, the station manager asked Hunt to share a short sermon on-air to encourage the community.

“God has opened doors for us to do ministry,” Hunt said.
Stacey Billger is the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s missions media strategist. For more information on how you can assist with disaster relief efforts, visit www.LBC.org.

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  • Stacey Billger