ALBANY, La. (BP) — Floodwater stopped two feet short of the church building where Bethlehem Baptist was sheltering 350 survivors of the onslaught of south Louisiana’s flooding.
The reprieve gave student minister Jase Shawley a chance to deliver a Sunday sermon, the day after the survivors’ sudden evacuation Aug. 13 — a reprieve that affected eternity for some of the evacuees.
Southern Baptist relief efforts, such as Bethlehem Baptist’s shelter in Albany, extend to food preparation and chaplaincy for survivors and first-responders as well as mud-out and cleanup for flooded homeowners and churches, now totaling 155,000-plus residences in 20 Louisiana parishes and, for Louisiana Baptists, 70 churches.
Among other initiatives: the provision of 100 fans and 45 dehumidifiers distributed through Louisiana State University’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry led by Steve Masters, whose home was ravaged by nearly six feet of floodwater.
The fans and dehumidifiers made their way to Baton Rouge from Bogart, Ga., where collegiate minister Sky Pratt at Prince Avenue Baptist Church initiated the project.
Masters described the fans and dehumidifiers as among “the flooded homeowner’s greatest needs…. It is of critical importance in rebuilding to have the moisture out of the studs and walls of a house. Any type [of unit] will work.” Masters, who continues coordinating the collection, can be reached at 225-964-0830.
And the Louisiana Baptist Convention is continuing its efforts to partner flood-stricken churches with healthy churches for recovery and rebuilding. For information, go to https://louisianabaptists.org/churches-can-help-churches or call 318-446-3242.
“Please, please come,” Gevan Spinney, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, urged Southern Baptist volunteers in comments to the Baptist Message, the convention’s newsjournal.
“Thank you for what you’ve done in March in response to the floods in the northern part of our state,” Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, said. “Please come and give to help us help the state recover from this [mid-August] flood. We need you.”
Spinney added, “Those yellow shirts [worn by Baptist volunteers] are a reminder throughout our state that we are not alone in this.”
For Jase Shawley, the shelter at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Albany extended beyond flood relief to spiritual celebration.
Shawley had wrapped up his sermon to evacuees when a church member relayed a request from a nearly-blind woman and avowed atheist named Cindy.
“She really wants to speak with you about her salvation,” Shawley was told. Later that Aug. 14 afternoon, he shared the plan of salvation with Cindy, who surrendered to Christ as her Lord and Savior.
“Cindy told me she didn’t know what had happened [in turning to Christ] but it was something like she had never felt before,” Shawley recounted. “She told me she had grown up being taught God didn’t exist. But now her heart was telling her He was real.
“Watching somebody who literally had nothing to do with any form of church or [with] praying — until that morning — and then watching her say, ‘Lord, I need You,’ just hours later was beautiful.”
For seven days, the church was immersed in a ministry of feeding evacuees and sharing the love of Christ — even seeing an impact after the shelter closed Aug. 19 when a number of evacuees returned for Sunday morning worship Aug. 21, with 11 coming forward during the altar call.
“It was beautiful to see 11 people come down and say they are giving their lives to Christ,” Shawley said. “As much as it was a blessing for them,” he added, “it was a blessing for us. This was something our church needed to see, that He can move mountains…. We were truly the body of Christ to multitudes who needed a touch of His hand.”
In Denham Springs, interim pastor James Carson at Northside Baptist Church voiced a call not only for recovery help but also for soul-winners.
The church, where most of the 80-plus people who attend on Sundays are age 70 and above, was invaded by nearly four feet of floodwater.
“We as a church are looking at this opportunity not only of ministering to the physical needs of people but more importantly to the spiritual needs and trying to win people all over this community to Jesus Christ,” Carson told the Baptist Message. “And we welcome any soul-winners to come and join us in this effort….
“There are many in our community who are unchurched and unsaved,” he said. “We want our church to have a positive impact on those who are hurting in order to build relationships … that will result in sharing the Gospel message of salvation to the unsaved and to reclaim those believers who are unchurched.”
For volunteer chaplain Wayne Barber, the same spot in a Lafayette restaurant became a special place for a team from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
“There were three people in a row at the same booth, three days in a row, all accepting Christ,” Barber said. “It was amazing how we were going down the road and the Holy Spirit nudged us to go in there, even though we really hadn’t planned to at first.” The team’s witness yielded nearly 40 professions of faith during their week of outreach in the flood zone.
“Every night when we go to bed we pray the Lord would prepare divine appointments the next day,” Barber said. “When we meet up, we have the strength to be the Christians we can be.”
Even a robbery failed to deflate the resolve of Crossgate Church to aid its community of Robert.
A piece of equipment used to load supplies for delivery, a 521 Loader valued at $2,500, was stolen from the church on Aug. 18.
“We have 10,000 houses that flooded in Tangipahoa Parish and this piece of equipment was needed to help them,” pastor Louis Husser said.
A sister church’s deacon chairman, Carl Richardson of Lee Valley Baptist in Loranger who works for a tractor supply and equipment company, heard about the situation and contacted Lee Valley’s pastor about the church providing funding for a new loader.
Richardson described the gesture as a way to pay forward how a number of churches had aided Lee Valley when it was about to close its doors in early 2015 and had $200 in the bank. The church’s membership has risen to 40 after sliding to 15.
“Our church was able to put our arms around a sister church and be a blessing to them,” Richardson said. “[W]hat an awesome feeling it was to know God allowed us to be used, and we give Him the glory for it.”
Information about the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s relief initiatives, as well as a link for providing financial assistance, can be accessed at LouisianaBaptists.org/DisasterRelief or the Baptist Message website, BaptistMessage.com.
Protocol for disaster relief volunteer deployment by the Louisiana convention entails completion of a sign-up form posted at https://louisianabaptists.org/volunteerDR. An area coordinator then will contact groups/individuals about key locations where assistance is needed.