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Flash flooding activates N.Y., N.J. pastors to help others, themselves

New York pastor Daniel McGhee expects he’ll have to find a new home after the basement of his 2-floor apartment flooded when the remnants of Hurricane Ida killed more than 40 people in New York, New Jersey and neighboring states Sept. 1.

NEW YORK (BP) – Pastor Daniel McGhee had just driven his daughter Emma Kate to college in Jersey City, N.J., and picked up daughter Ella from her downtown Manhattan job Wednesday night when the rain began to pour.

“She and I drove through, actually, some really deep water. We had to really make sure we didn’t get in some water that was too deep for my minivan,” McGhee, lead pastor of Connection Church in Astoria, Queens, said Friday (Sept. 3). “And as we’re driving home, my wife (Kari) calls my daughter and tells her that the basement’s flooding. … She sent us pictures and our basement was flooding and it had about 6 inches of water in it.”

A few miles from McGhee’s Astoria home, Pastor Larry Mayfield was conducting a counseling session at his home in Woodside, Queens, when his church’s children’s director Candace Profit called for help. Dirty water mixed with sewage was flooding her basement apartment home.

New York pastor and church planter Larry Mayfield has begun the process of ripping ruined flooring and sheetrock from his flooded basement in Queens, but will be able to remain in his home.

As Mayfield and his wife Lindsey prepared to help Profit, they encountered their own flooded basement. Lindsey drove the mile to Profit’s home as Larry Mayfield tried to save his basement.

In the Mayfields’ Woodside community of about 85,000 people, a 2-year-old toddler and his parents were among those who died as floodwaters swamped basement apartments too quickly for families to flee.

After the remnants of Hurricane Ida moved to the northeast, flash flooding and tornadoes that killed more than 40 people in New York, New Jersey and neighboring states activated pastors to help those in need, New York Send City Missionary Won Kwak said.

“Churches and planters throughout all five boroughs have been hit hard by the unexpected level of rainfall caused by Ida,” said Kwak, who serves as a non-staff pastor at Mission City Church, a church plant in Brooklyn. “Many are pulling together and helping one another and their neighbors bail out. … Northern New Jersey was also hit very hard.

“Parks and baseball fields and so many areas have become manmade lakes,” Kwak said.

None of the pastors Baptist Press talked to reported any loss of life among their congregations, but some families were displaced. In the congested metropolitan areas impacted, basements are heavily utilized as living spaces.

McGhee’s basement took on as much as 8 inches of “really dirty water,” ruining electronics, photos, clothing and shoes. The family is saving what they can.

“All of my neighbors flooded. … This was aggressive. It was a lot of water that came in,” McGhee said. “What happens is the drainage system just can’t get rid of the water fast enough, and so it just starts to pool up. And as it pools up, it just come through the doors of your home and just can’t go anywhere fast enough. It’s just overwhelming.”

McGhee’s basement will need to be gutted and renovated, and he’ll likely have to find a new place to live.

“We are still cleaning up, still trying to make sure our place is dried out,” he said. “We’re trying to find another place. … It’s very expensive. Whenever you move, in New York especially, you have to pay a broker fee. A broker fee’s going to cost you an extra month’s rent. So … $4,000 a month for an apartment, you have to pay first month’s rent, you have to pay a one-month’s deposit and a one-month’s broker fee. So you’re looking at $12,000. … We don’t have that kind of money sitting around.”

Connection Church meets in a Lutheran church building that didn’t flood, McGhee was happy to hear.

Mayfield helped McGhee plant Connection Church in 2012 before planting Queens Church Ministry in 2019, a congregation that has grown to 120 members.

“Most of our church people were good. They only two people that flooded were me and the children’s director,” Mayfield said. “It flooded from my backyard through the house. We’ve ripped up all the floors and taken out sheetrock and stuff. … And then our children’s director, Candace … she lives in a basement apartment, and it flooded about 6 inches.”

Profit, a single mom of four, is displaced and will need to find other housing. She lost most all of her family’s clothing, some furniture and many possessions, Mayfield said. Queens Church Ministry rented a storage locker for the two families and others to store belongings at no cost as they clean their homes.

Southern Baptists know the biblical answers to such problems, McGhee said, but applying them when tragedy strikes can be more difficult.

“God’s working through all things for the good of those who love the Lord and that, even in the midst of trials, we know that God is with us. He has not abandoned us,” McGhee said. “We know those things foundationally are part of our faith, but functionally many times we don’t feel that in a moment sometimes.”

McGhee encouraged other Christians to pray for those in New York.

“Pray for our faith to be resilient in this time, and … just pray that we would be able to love and serve our neighbors in a way that would help them experience the love of God.”