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Close call & lost job fail to derail volunteer crew

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Members from Watson Chapel Baptist Church are living up to their state’s nickname, the Volunteer State. Even after a member of their chainsaw crew was pinned by a tree, almost paralyzing him, the church was willing to send a team of youth and adults to return to Louisiana the following week.

The team, led by youth pastor Russ Cooper, stayed at First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula and drove every morning to New Orleans to distribute food, water, ice and cleaning supplies at Calvary Baptist Church and to a non-church site.

By giving out Bibles at both sites, doors for ministry opened. One woman, after receiving a Bible, began to cry. Through her tears, she asked for another Bible for her mother because the hurricanes destroyed both of their Bibles left in their homes.

Tina Dalton was moved by “all of the love and kindness of the people” she helped. “People didn’t take any more than they needed. They didn’t want to be wasteful. I kept saying take more, but they would say, ‘No, No, someone else might need it,’” Dalton recounted.

One of the needs Dalton met was finding a walker for a woman who came to the site looking for help for her elderly mother. The woman and her family evacuated during the storm and took her elderly mother who lived in a nursing home with them. The nursing home is now uninhabitable and the daughter is responsible for the total care of her mother.

Volunteer Karen Raby, believing God wanted her to go to New Orleans, lost her job to be a part of the team. After telling her boss what she was going to do, Raby endured the taunts of some co-workers because they could not understand why she would risk her job to help others. But the faith of her 13-year-old son, Cameron Hawk, convinced her. “Momma,” Cameron said, “you know that if you go down there, God will provide [for us] when you come back home.”

Of all the Watson Chapel volunteers from Madisonville, Tenn., two of the most extraordinary were Raul and Amanda Spurgeon. The brother and sister evacuated with their parents from St. Charles Parish, La., to Tennessee. While at a community shelter, the family was told about Watson Chapel. They began attending services and soon made a decision to begin a relationship with the Lord. The church even began to house the Spurgeons in a room in their fellowship hall. While living at the church, Amanda and Raul started volunteering at the shelter in which they previously lived. And then they came back with their new church family to minister to others in New Orleans.

The story would be amazing enough if it ended there. But immediately before the first church service the Spurgeons attended at Watson Chapel, Donna Combs had prayed for unaccounted-for relatives in the New Orleans area during a prayer meeting. Not knowing how to get in touch with them, she turned the matter over to the Lord. When Donna walked out of the prayer meeting and into the evening’s church service, two of the missing relatives, great-nephew and niece Raul and Amanda, were sitting in a pew at the church, definitely not as a coincidence but as evidence of divine intervention.

Shanna Isbill realized during the week in New Orleans that what she saw on television was not the whole story of the city. “You try to help [people] get back to normal, but things will never be normal again,” she said. A woman cried while she told Isbill, “I lost everything. The only things I now own are in the back of my car.”

“She just didn’t know where to start,” Isbill said, “to get her life back together.”

As New Orleanians begin fashioning their new “normal,” however, Southern Baptist volunteers like those from Watson Chapel will continue to be on hand to provide help and hope.
Keith Manuel is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New Orleans.

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  • Keith Manuel