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Florida Baptists offer hope among the ashes

PALM COAST, Fla. (BP)–When police began banging on Dave and Martha Stump’s door July 3, telling them to evacuate their Palm Coast, Fla., home, the couple left without delay, taking only a few clothes and papers.
“I moved here three weeks after the 1985 fires. I knew the fire would hopscotch around and we needed to get out soon,” Martha explained. “We could see the fire a block or two over.” She believes the house was engulfed in flames within minutes of their hasty departure.
Three days later, the Stumps returned to find only ashes, burned-out remnants of several appliances and a few pieces of ceramic pottery Martha had handcrafted.
The Stumps’ residence was one of 161 homes and at least 61 businesses in the northeast Florida community that burned during the Fourth of July weekend as fires raged across Flagler, Volusia and Brevard counties. Since Memorial Day, more than 2,000 fires have burned 465,000 acres, leaving behind charred forests, black-scorched homes with melted siding hanging from the roofs and skeleton-like remains of cars and boats. Outlines of burned grass travel property lines and house edges to attest to how close the wildfires came to destroying many more homes.
Yet hope can be found among the ruins as homemade signs posted throughout the community thank God and firefighters for saving homes and businesses.
The Stumps, members of First Baptist Church, Palm Coast, won’t rebuild, Martha said. “The house was too big. We needed to scale down anyway, so this is the opportunity.”
The Stumps credit their Christian faith for their calm composure.
“God has a reason for doing this, maybe to help other people,” Dave said. “Who knows what the Lord has in mind? He’ll take care of us, so we don’t have to worry.”
Florida Baptists have played a visible role in helping lessen the worries of those in need.
On June 6, the Florida Baptist Convention’s disaster relief mobile unit was activated at First Baptist Church, Palm Coast. Trained volunteers supplied and cooked food, which Red Cross volunteers took into the forests for firefighters.
The mobile kitchen, which can produce up to 20,000 meals each day, continued the work of feeding the firefighters that had been initiated by a number of Florida Baptist churches in the affected areas. When the unit left the area July 12, more than 11,000 meals had been prepared and distributed to firefighters and government officials.
Florida Baptist Convention officials also earmarked $25,000 in cash subsidies to meet immediate needs of victims. Driving through the burned-out areas, convention staff and local pastors listened to stories of losses and offered the aid to those in need. Each cash-filled envelope included a listing of names and addresses of area Baptist churches.
Charlotte Turner and her family were one of two families from First Baptist, Palm Coast, whose houses were destroyed.
“What the Florida Baptist Convention and the Halifax Baptist Association are doing is wonderful,” she said, after receiving some financial help. “When you give, you don’t really realize how it affects people so personally. But when you are the recipient of the money, you really appreciate it more.”
David Vannoy, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Bunnell, lost his home June 6, but that did not deter him from visiting his community four times since the July 4 weekend. Distributing money is “very helpful and encouraging to the people,” he said. “But the personal touch, the fact that we have been there and prayed with them, has been the greatest asset.”
Vannoy told of a Jewish man in his neighborhood who earlier had used his faith as a reason to discourage the pastor’s offers of friendship. The man had been evacuated four times in the past month and had incurred hotel and food bills. Vannoy visited him in early July, offering financial aid from the convention. “I was able to give him the money, tell him I was thinking about him and praying for him. He seemed very thankful. We have been able to touch his heart,” Vannoy said.
The disaster has resulted in “doors opened to be givers, because people are in the mood to be on the receiving end,” Vannoy said. “The people are so disoriented and so depressed by what they have to look at — whether they sustained damage or not. … They are reachable at this moment.”
Palm Coast Community Church has several church members who serve with the community’s volunteer fire department, noted pastor Billy Wight. The congregation has devised plans to visit fire victims personally and offer financial assistance from Florida Baptists. He agreed
the funds will help open doors in the community.
Harold Brantley, director of missions for Brevard Baptist Association, where more than 514 fires were reported, commented, “The financial contributions will help our church members tremendously. It will provide our churches a witness in the community to the people — a ministry that reaches people outside the walls of the church and outside Baptist circles.
From July 3 to July 6, Flagler County experienced a county-wide evacuation, forcing churches to close their doors that Sunday. Convention funds were made available to compensate pastors and staff who rely on weekly offering contributions for their livelihood.
Hammock First Baptist Church in Flagler Beach was one of the churches which, though unscathed by the fire, suffered financial loss as a result of the evacuation. While some people resented the call to evacuate, pastor Roger Huth said he didn’t mind.
“I was here in 1985 when the fire began in Bunnell at 10 a.m. and was at the ocean by 5 p.m.,” he recalled. “I knew the fire would be coming across the Intercoastal (waterway) if it wasn’t stopped on the mainland.”
Huth, one of the pastors to receive financial assistance, noted, “So often the convention is seen as a place to send money and get little in return. But this shows the convention cares and will meet needs when they know the needs.”
Through the week-long activation of the disaster relief feeding units, Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers gave tirelessly in the 100-degree heat to stand over hot cookers, stirring and serving food. Trained teams from Marion Baptist Association, Ocala; Terry Parker Baptist Church in Jacksonville; and Palm Coast-area churches were among the volunteers to respond to the need. Many of the volunteers also served in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and four other hurricanes.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Sherman Sudduth of Jacksonville, who takes time off work to participate. “I’m a retired Marine and this stuff is like war. All around you is devastation and people needing help. Volunteering is a great opportunity to the let the Lord lead others through the crisis.”
Joe Church of Palm Coast said he is involved because it’s biblical. “Jesus told us to do this in Matthew 25:35 — feed the hungry. That’s the main reason I’m out here.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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