HOUMA, La. (BP) — Despite humidity levels beyond stifling….
Despite delays in the arrival of food and the insulated Cambros for taking it to American Red Cross distribution sites….
Despite sleeping in less than ideal conditions….
And despite various other inconveniences….
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief-trained volunteers labored, laughed and joked and never once complained — within earshot of a reporter, at least — as Hurricane Isaac left southeast Louisiana and moved north.
SBDR volunteers — and church volunteers — had given up their Labor Day weekend to move into action in Covington, Madisonville, Poydras, New Orleans and Houma.
“The eye of the storm was directly over us and hovered over us for 10 hours,” said Randall Gill, leader of a chainsaw unit stationed at Coteau Baptist Church in Houma. He’s also pastor of Little Caillou Baptist Church in Chauvin. “We had 70 mph sustained winds, and gusts to 110….
“A lot of people are still really distraught, under duress,” Gill reported. “When we’re talking to people now, we’re simply sharing with them that, even in the midst of the storm, the anchor still holds firm because Jesus is our rock. That’s what we’re sharing when we go out.”
That’s why Joe Arnold, another DR leader who also is director of missions for the local Bayou Baptist Association, wants a chaplain to go out on every work assignment to share God’s love with people who are hurting.
“This [hurricane recovery] is rekindling a lot of relationships for us from Katrina,” Arnold said. “We’re seeing very little resistance in an area that’s 90 percent Catholic.”
James Irvine, a DR-trained chaplain and member of Pine Ridge Baptist Church in Melder, La., sat reading his Bible between assignments in Houma. “I’m just trying to learn more,” Irvine said. “The more I know, the more I can share.”
Shay and Bud Powell and their 10-year-old daughter Emory-Thomas Powell, shared their love of God as they crouched in the fire ant-infested lawn of a family who had asked that it be cleaned of the bayou debris — from flooding in Madisonville, La., that “for the first time ever” had sent water eight inches deep into their 1950s-era farmhouse.
“We do what we can,” Shay Powell said as her husband brushed more fire ants off his gloves. “Next time it could be us needing help.”
That’s a typical response, but what gives even more credibility to Southern Baptist DR is that, in addition to spreading the love of God through service and a “wise word fitly spoken,” the volunteers are experienced, prepared and organized. They have trailers filled with equipment for whatever their assignment.
Chainsaw units, for example, have 12-inch saws, 24-inch saws, long-handled saws and more, including a tractor or perhaps bobcat to move big trunks and stacks of smaller limbs and branches.
They don’t stop with just chopping down trees. They move the debris to the road so local workers can haul it off with ease. The DR volunteers can chug an entire bottle of water with ease after battling the heat and humidity. And still, no complaining.
They’re patient in delays, focused when working, funny when they’re not, and they want you to be too.
In response to the teasing of one team, I responded to a DR leader who had just assigned them to take me on their next job, “Can’t you find me a good-looking chainsaw team to photograph?” The men chortled with delight.
Feeding units, meanwhile, have forklifts for hauling pallets of food that comes frozen; rice cookers; oversized convection ovens, each of which can cook 150 chicken breasts at a time; three 40-gallon rectangular tilt skillets that can cook 300 servings of beans in each; double-walled steam kettles for pasta or vegetables; and much more, including can openers that fit #10 size cans.
“We open a lot of cans,” said Lonnie Lindsey, DR leader of a feeding unit set up at First Baptist Church in Covington. “I like to season the food … so it tastes the same way I would cook it for myself. I have the ladies taste it: ‘Do I need more salt, more Tonys’ [Chachere’s creole seasoning]?”
When asked why he is a part of disaster relief, Lindsey said, “I just really enjoy it,” yet acknowledged, “It’s hard work, long days, sometimes very hot. When you leave after four or five days you’re very tired but you’re very content that you’ve done something worthwhile; there’s a lot of satisfaction in it.
“I hang my hat on 1 Peter 4:10,” Lindsey continued. “If we don’t use those talents to help other people, they’re wasted. I love to help people.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com ), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.