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Crippling Ark. ice storm gets multi-state Baptist response

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Any dreams of a white Christmas turned into more of a nightmare for Arkansans when a fierce ice storm Dec. 25 topped the worst disaster in state history, prompting the deployment of Baptist disaster relief teams to troubled areas in central and southwest Arkansas.

The second winter squall in as many weeks to hit Arkansas caused chaos and havoc for Christmas plans and holiday travel, including several deaths. Icy roadways left many stranded in shelters, on interstates and in ditches, and resulted in a host of traffic accidents.

As ice build-up soon downed trees, power lines and poles, electricity and telephone service was knocked out for an estimated 1 million Arkansans, many of whom were left in the dark and without heat for days as temperatures dropped into the teens. In southwest Arkansas, the hardest hit area, some homes could be without power as long as a month, according to officials in that area.

Within hours of the ice storm, which President Clinton has since declared as a federal disaster, Arkansas Baptist
Many Arkansas Baptist churches statewide also opened their doors as shelters to families and travelers who were displaced by the storms.

According to Bill Cantrell, coordinator of disaster relief for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, more than 200 people volunteered in disaster relief services, which for the most part concluded Jan. 7. During that time, disaster relief feeding units were set up in Arkadelphia, Hot Springs, Fort Smith and De Queen. As of Jan. 5, at least 5,000 hot meals had been served.

In addition, several Arkansas Baptist recovery crews, stationed from Benton to Texarkana, helped hundreds of victims by cutting down trees and limbs from off of roofs and fences and away from roadways. Joining the Arkansas teams were numerous Baptist units from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri.

Recalling the brutal damage caused by the back-to-back storms, Cantrell said Arkansas Baptists are committed to “reaching out to people in need … and in times of crisis like this there is an abundance of needs.”

“Christ told us that when we do unto the least of these we have done it unto him,” he said. “We are here to serve Christ in crisis.”

Unlike the storm that hit in mid-December, Cantrell said many county judges requested recovery help from Baptist teams during the Christmas storm. This appeal to aid in cutting down trees enabled crews to get into troubled areas faster to restore power, he said.

In Arkadelphia, the Red River Baptist Association feeding unit began Dec. 27 to prepare hot meals at the Clark County fairground shelter for storm victims, utility workers, local police and firemen, and continued for more than a week. Working alongside American Red Cross volunteers, meals also were distributed by van to many rural homes.

Storm victims seemed to welcome the hot meals, the first many had received in days.

“Wow, that smells good,” stated one Arkadelphia man. “I’ve been eating nothing but beans ever since the power went off. Thank you. Thank you.”

Across town, several recovery teams from North and South Carolina worked long hours for nearly a week to aid victims. Traveling some 15 hours to Arkansas, several volunteers reported they had come to help as a way to follow Christ’s example of helping others.

“The Bible tells us we are to be disciples, and I can’t think of a better way to be disciples than to touch the lives of people in need,” said Terry Griffin, leader of a North Carolina group. “We are just doing the Lord’s work when we help those in need.”

One such needy resident Billy Johnson, who is a paraplegic, said he was grateful for the assistance. “The Lord is so good all the time … even in times of trouble and disaster,” he said. “Sometimes disasters can become blessings in disguise.”

Noting many people are not able to clean up from such disasters, Johnson said, the Baptist workers are “miracles from God.”

“The Lord says he will provide our every need,” Johnson added. “He may not provide for us in the form we want him to, but we can always expect the best from the Lord.”

Arkadelphia Red Cross director Pam Palmer called the disaster volunteers wonderful. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have quit my job by now,” Palmer jokingly said, adding this disaster was unlike any she had ever experienced.

“They have done a great job.”

Echoing Palmer, Jim Burns, director of the Office of Emergency Management in Arkadelphia, said the disaster relief teams were “tremendously helpful to us, and to help in the way they have has really aided us in making headway in reaching out to storm victims.”

A team from Maury County Baptist Association in Tennessee reached out to victims in Saline County area. Working from dusk to dawn, the teams helped many senior adults for nearly a week.

One recipient of their help, Peggy Hendricks of Benton, said she was overjoyed at the team’s assistance. Noting her thankfulness for the group, Hendricks said, “The good Lord does take care of me. They [the crew] are wonderful.”

Volunteer Richard Brown said disaster relief ministry is a way Arkansas Baptists can reach many who would likely never attend a church.

“As Christians we are in the business of meeting personal as well as spiritual needs,” said Brown, a volunteer with the Red River Baptist Association disaster relief team. “Helping others in need is one way to meet physical needs and hopefully it will carry over to realization that they all have spiritual needs.”

Such was the case of an 81-year-old Texarkana man. Talking with Jerry Creek, associational missionary and coordinator of teams in his area, the elderly man prayed to receive Christ as chainsaw crews cut down trees in his yard.

“That’s what we are all about,” Cantrell reflected. “We are not here to just cut down trees and feed people. We are here by divine appointment … to eventually share the gospel message.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HOT MEALS and HELPING HANDS.

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  • Stella Prather