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For widows & others, church met flood with love

[SLIDESHOW=43424,43425,43426]WELSH, La. (BP) — A church and its pastor provided hope where there was little and gave unconditional love when it was needed most during south Louisiana’s record flooding.

Battling rising floodwater himself, pastor Pat Deshotel and members of First Baptist Church in Welsh set aside their own problems to aid their neighbors.

Special attention was given to a pair of widows in the town of 3,000. Each lost a husband just before the rain and flooding began in mid-August.

“I couldn’t imagine losing a spouse and then having to face the devastation of the flooding…. They didn’t even have time to grieve before the flooding began,” Deshotel said. “I knew both ladies and their husbands well, and I could not let them go this alone.”

Joe Bertrand died Aug. 9 after a long battle with cancer, leaving behind his wife Judy after 49 years of marriage. Victor Thomas passed away the following day leaving behind his wife Shannon. While Judy Bertrand, a Roman Catholic, had family nearby, Shannon Thomas, who is affiliated with a non-denominational church, did not.

“Judy had eight feet of water in her home and Shannon’s trailer was surrounded by water,” Deshotel said. “I made sure we did everything we could to help them. We became their family.”

First Baptist also became a safe haven for others, distributing critical supplies, hot meals and “a little muscle.” Then the church became a command center for disaster relief efforts, all the while continuing to minister to everyone regardless of religion.

“The Catholic priest, who is a very good friend of mine, told his church people to thank the congregation of First Welsh because of what we have been doing for everyone,” Deshotel said. “Truthfully, all we were doing was shining the light of Christ’s love. Our efforts were helping people to learn about our Lord.”

As assistance from sister churches in the Carey Baptist Association, the Louisiana Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention began to arrive, the church turned into a staging area for the teams.

“It was amazing to see so many volunteers,” Deshotel said. “I really want to compliment the Carey disaster relief teams led by Rob Tibbitts. They really have [disaster relief] organized well and they were just great to work with.”

In four arduous weeks after the flooding, First Baptist cooked for 60 to 70 disaster relief volunteers for 15 straight days; assisted teams with mud-out and mold remediation; and handed out donated supplies and money to all in need.

“On any given day there were 35 to 40 members of the church helping in some way,” said Deshotel, who celebrated his fourth anniversary Sept. 4 as First Baptist’s pastor in Jefferson Davis Parish. “I am truly humbled to be called their pastor.”

Teams wrapped up their relief efforts Sept. 1, having completed work on 52 homes and ministry to hundreds of people.

“There is a lot of damage here and will be for some time,” Deshotel said. “Unlike elsewhere, we did not receive the media attention or the tremendous outpouring of assistance. We just had to rely on each other, our faith and our Lord. And we did.

“Now we turn our attention to rebuilding,” the pastor said. “We have a long, hard six month ahead of us and people are going to continue to need our help. We will be here and we will continue to help everyone who needs it.”

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  • Philip Timothy/Louisiana Baptist Message