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Churches help ease pain of flood victims

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist churches served as shelters and volunteers helped residents clean up after major flooding in the Midwest left at least 17 dead and nearly half of Arkansas’ counties declared as disaster areas.

Flooding that began March 18 and started receding March 24 displaced hundreds of people in the southeastern part of Missouri, many of whom took shelter in churches including the First Baptist churches of Delta, Marble Hill and Ellington.

First Baptist Church in Piedmont served as a launching point for a Missouri Baptist disaster relief mass care feeding trailer from the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association, which served 2,000 hot meals to workers and victims. A shower trailer from the Jefferson Baptist Association is still on site at Piedmont, officials said.

Fed by torrential rains, the Meramec and Mississippi Rivers swelled to near-record levels, displacing hundreds and killing at least five in that area, one of whom was Walter Baker, a deacon and a member for more than 50 years at First Baptist Ellington.

As Baker was crossing the bridge over the swelling creek that separated his home from his hardware and machine shop, a camper trailer floated down the creek, destroying the bridge and throwing Baker into the rushing waters.

Jim Stewart, pastor of First Baptist, said he and numerous church members aided in the search effort as best they could during the flood, but by the time the 81-year-old Baker was found, it was too late. Baker had been active in the community, local chamber and the church, Stewart said.

“He never missed a Sunday, [he] taught the youth for a time and taught Sunday School. He was a great missionary in our community. He was never afraid to tell you about Jesus or invite you to church,” the pastor said.

The flooding has touched 70 of Missouri’s 114 counties, prompting President Bush to declare parts of the state federal disaster areas eligible for FEMA assistance. The Mississippi River crested at 45 feet at Cape Girardeau, 13 feet above flood stage.

First Baptist Marble Hill housed 20 people the first night of the flood when Hurricane Creek, which bisects the community, separated people from their homes.

“Some kids who got out of school early couldn’t get home to their families,” Fred Ritter, pastor of First Baptist Marble Hill, said.

A community of about 1,500, Marble Hill is getting used to turning to First Baptist for help. A few weeks ago during an ice storm, more than 50 people showed up to sleep in the church’s family life center.

“We don’t really have a community center, so our church has become the place to go in a disaster,” Ritter said. “It’s been a great way to minister, and the Lord is watching over us.”

Even though the waters are back to a manageable level, Rick Seaton, director of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s disaster relief fleet, said work is far from over. The North American Mission Board is sending an incident command team to coordinate the monumental mud-out and cleanup efforts, and volunteers, trained or not, are in high demand.

“We need a lot more in-state volunteers,” Seaton said. “If you have had Southern Baptist/Missouri Baptist disaster relief training in any area but have not specifically had mud-out training, you are still welcome to help with mud-out. Training will be provided on site. Please let us know the dates you would be available and someone will contact you if/when you are needed.”

For information about Missouri disaster relief or to volunteer, contact Gwen Martin at [email protected] or call 1-800-736-6227.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe has declared nearly half of the state’s counties disaster areas, hundreds of homes have been damaged and roads are still closed in several counties. Heavy rains began pounding the state March 17, prompting the deployment of Arkansas Baptist disaster relief volunteers. At least one Arkansas resident has died in the floods and another is missing.

Robby Tingle, head of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention missions ministries team, said a group of Arkansas Baptist volunteers was involved in flood relief efforts in Mountain View, and others were expected to arrive March 27 to help with mud-out and cleanup efforts.

Tingle said assessment teams also are attempting to contact Baptist leaders in Des Arc, DeValls Bluff and Clarendon, where floodwaters continue to rise, to receive an update on their needs. As floodwaters recede in many areas of Arkansas, Tingle said ABSC relief workers would be deployed to access damage. At that time, additional relief crews will assist in mud-out and cleanup efforts as needed.

So far one Baptist church in Arkansas has reported damage. Floodwaters damaged the fellowship hall of White River Baptist Church in Oil Trough and, before receding, threatened the sanctuary. Arkansas Baptist officials have offered financial resources to several ABSC churches to help them minister to their communities.

In Illinois, Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg provided food and shelter to 50 people over a four-day period after heavy rains caused severe flooding in the southern part of the state. Disaster relief recovery teams from Dorrisville and McKinley Avenue Baptist Church, also in Harrisburg, are assisting in area cleanup efforts.

According to local emergency management agencies, 75 businesses and 60-80 homes have been affected by the flooding. The forecast for the area calls for more rain.

Farther north, in east central Illinois, the town of Watseka is still recovering from two major flood events in the last two months. Watseka Baptist Church sustained serious structural damage and is meeting in a local museum while church leaders make decisions about the church building’s future.

The small, aging congregation did not have flood insurance for the 113-year-old church building and the Illinois and Federal Emergency Management Agencies have denied them assistance. The Illinois Baptist State Association has given the church $5,000 from its disaster relief fund while other Illinois Baptist churches and the surrounding community also have provided assistance.
Compiled by Erin Roach of Baptist Press with reporting by Brian Koonce of The Pathway in Missouri, Stella Prather of the Arkansas Baptist News and Lisa Sergent of the Illinois Baptist.

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