TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–Duane Bechtold understands his mission. “We didn’t come here to cut trees but to tell people Jesus loves them. The chainsaws give us the tools to share that message.”
Bechtold, the volunteer disaster relief coordinator for Texas Baptist Men’s efforts in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is part of a group of nearly 200 Texas Baptists who assisted in Tuscaloosa for most of May.
Texas Baptist Men came with chainsaws, compact tractors, trailers, trucks and other equipment. East McFarland Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa hosted the group, providing meals and sleeping quarters inside the church.
Another group affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention brought a mobile feeding unit, chainsaw equipment and shower and laundry units. Two Tuscaloosa churches, North River and Emmanuel Baptist, have hosted the SBTC volunteers.
“We have been washing about 60 loads of clothing each day,” said Chad Barnes, who coordinated the shower and laundry units.
Diana Boelman, of Bryan, Texas, said when she heard about the needs in Tuscaloosa, where more than 40 people died and thousands of others had their homes destroyed or badly damaged, she knew God was leading her to go there to help.
Grace Partin of Pleasanton, Texas, acknowledged a similar prod from the Holy Spirit.
“When you sense God saying, ‘Go,’ you go,” she said.
But Texas Baptists have not been the only ones feeling that call.
A team of 12 from Baldwin Baptist Association in Alabama, led by Mac Duck, arrived May 17 to assist the SBTC group with the feeding unit. Several Red Cross emergency vehicles arrived in the North River parking lot twice a day, bringing food for the disaster relief volunteers to prepare in the feeding unit. They prepared thousands of plates and then packed them in insulated containers so the Red Cross could distribute them throughout the area.
A World Changers group of 200 youth from Georgia is scheduled to arrive in mid-June to help with cleanup and recovery.
Tuscaloosa Baptist Association churches have been faithfully ministering to their communities since the EF-4 tornado hit April 27, even though seven of them were damaged.
Gary Bonner, the association’s associate director for new work/missions, said while it has been stressful, the people of the greater Tuscaloosa area are in a “recovery mood” now.
The initial shock of the storm is beginning to subside, according to interim director of missions Billy Gray, and now people are asking theological questions and seeking answers and meaning to what has happened.
“We have an opportunity here in Tuscaloosa County for our churches to do some great things,” he said.
Gary Hardin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit online.thealabamabaptist.org. For information about donations to Alabama Baptists’ disaster relief efforts, go to http://www.alsbom.org/feature3.