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FIRST-PERSON: Thank you, Southern Baptist volunteers

DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. (BP)–Southern Baptist volunteers, thank you! You have been a breath of fresh air for those of us who live along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Hancock County.

The communities of Bay St. Louis, Miss. (80 percent of the homes and buildings were obliterated or flooded), Waveland, Miss. (90-plus percent), Pearlington, Miss. (nearly 100 percent) and Diamondhead, Miss. (40 percent) all suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Katrina that affected both residents and businesses.

All but two of the eight Southern Baptist Churches in Hancock County — members of the Gulf Coast Baptist Association — suffered major damage. Because I am pastor of Diamondhead Baptist Church — one of the two churches that did not suffer major damage — and a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the sense of loss is personal. Yet that loss has opened a huge door of opportunity for ministry that our Southern Baptist volunteers are helping us to realize.

Hope is returning to Hancock County. With the vital help of Southern Baptist volunteers, three of the damaged churches are now at least partially usable, one more is already meeting in a temporary setting, and the other two are sites for repair or rebuilding. Opportunities wait around each corner.

The area has tremendous physical reconstruction needs, but the deeper needs are there as well. People in our area are living under a stress level that has led to relationship problems, anger, depression and despair due to the loss of loved ones, cherished belongings and the sense of security. Volunteers have been magnificent in helping remove debris, flooded possessions and sheetrock, and they are beginning to help rebuild some homes. An untold story is how they are bringing hope, support and Christian love that serve as a second level of Christian witness to hurting communities.

As an example, one Christian father, his two sons his brother and brother’s wife, were in their home during the storm. As the water crossed Interstate 10, his house was literally washed away as they struggled to leave and find higher ground. Miraculously, God guided them to safety. On the other hand, his house was gone, he had no flood insurance and his mortgage was still due. A team of volunteers brought some hope into his life as they helped to clear the rubble from his lot, moving it to the roadside for removal. Despair was not gone totally, but at least a light was starting to dawn as he was now able to receive a trailer on his lot as a temporary dwelling.

Tough times are still on the horizon, but our volunteers were bright lights bringing hope as they showed the love of Christ in action, word and attitude. Again, Southern Baptist volunteers, thank you!
Bill Warren is the director of the center for New Testament textual studies and the Landrum P. Leavell II, professor of New Testament and Greek at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Warren also serves as pastor at Diamondhead Baptist Church in Diamondhead, Miss.

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  • Bill Warren