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Galveston Baptists share reports, plan

TEXAS CITY, Texas (BP)–In Galveston, leaders from local churches and the Baptist association, Southern Baptist disaster relief and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention met Sept. 25 at the Galveston Baptist Association (GBA) offices to plan for recovery after Hurricane Ike.

About 20 pastors representing some of the association’s 60 churches attended the meeting, the first called by the GBA since Hurricane Ike hit on Sept. 13. Others in attendance included SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, SBTC minister/church relations director Mike Smith and representatives from Nehemiah’s Vision, a rebuilding ministry led by Southern Baptists based in Vidor, Texas.

The purpose of the meeting, association officials said, was to begin coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts and resources from the local, state and national levels.

FBC Vidor pastor Terry Wright, who is on the board of Nehemiah’s Vision, said the Golden Triangle Baptist Association has a warehouse in Beaumont currently being stocked with resources supplied through the SBC’s North American Mission Board. He called for the creation of regional support centers to take loads of supplies from the warehouse and then redistribute them in designated regions.

Disaster relief (DR) representatives reported out-of-state teams are prepared to work in the area but are waiting for work orders and housing arrangements.

Smith said the SBTC is ready to coordinate rebuild efforts on a state level in order to supply the volunteers and resources needed in hurricane-damaged areas.

Central Baptist Church in Galveston had little damage, but its pastor said they would probably have to shoulder the burden of spending close to the $10,000 insurance deductible to make necessary repairs.

The experiences of 2005’s Hurricane Rita helped SBTC leaders in responding to Ike. Disaster relief crews were in affected areas as soon as the storm passed. The convention e-mailed a list of churches damaged by the storm to Baptist associations across the state, Smith said.

Each of the pastors at the GBA meeting was given a few minutes to detail the condition of their churches and homes. The status of the facilities varied from minor damage to obliteration. First Baptist Church in Gilchrist, along with the town it ministered to on the coast, no longer exists.

“There’s nothing there,” said Sandy Roots, wife of First Baptist Church pastor L.C. Roots, following the meeting. “It’s all gone — the people, the businesses, the insurance agency.”

All that remains of the small town once situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Intercoastal Waterway is the beach. And even some of that is gone. Sandy Roots said she has been told it may be “four seasons” before anyone is given permission to rebuild.

Texas law establishes all 367 miles of Texas beaches as public property. The Texas Open Beaches Act of 1959 set the mean high tide as the delineation between public and private land. With substantial beach erosion occurring during the course of a storm, that line shifts, usually not in the landowners’ favor.

Roots said she did not know if they would return to Gilchrist with no one living there.

One by one the pastors stepped to the front of the auditorium and gave their stories. With a calm and almost matter-of-fact manner, they told of churches damaged or homes flooded. Some — those whose churches are located in areas not yet opened to the public by authorities — do not even know the condition of their churches.

Bob Gibson, pastor of First Baptist Church in San Leon, quipped, “Our Sunday School building got a new address. It moved.”

His house and the rest of the church also were lost to the storm. But his plea was not only for work crews but Gospel tracts in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse have set up camp in the church parking lot and were working with the church to minister to San Leon residents seeking assistance.

Gibson said the destruction from the storm provides a prime opportunity to witness in his community, especially in areas previously closed to the Gospel message. He told of a women’s drug rehabilitation residential center located down the street from his church and damaged by floodwaters. By offering to help clean out the facility, Gibson believes the church would literally and spiritually get a foot in the door, allowing the church to initiate a relationship with the staff and residents of the center.

Arturo Aguado, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Salvacion Eterna in Hitchcock, did not speak during the meeting, but spoke to the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal afterward. He said nearly 20 people from his church, including his own family, have been displaced by floodwater in their homes. One family, he said, is having trouble returning from San Antonio because they do not have enough money for gas.

The most immediate need is for cots, bedding, clothes, and portable showers, Aguado said. The families are staying in the family life center of First Baptist Church in Hitchcock, where they also have begun meeting for worship.

Noel Vargas, pastor of West End Baptist Church on the island, told the group, “I’ll start with my home first. It’s gone. What we took to College Station is all we have.”

The church, he reported, received extensive damage. He said he found the whole experience very humbling and yet, he added, “Even through all of this God is working.”

Billy Graff, pastor of University Baptist Church in Galveston, said he wants to put his church’s facilities to use as a staging area for relief crews. Situated just two blocks from the Galveston Seawall, the church sustained only minor damage. His home, though, took in about two feet of water.

Construction consultants from the SBTC and Nehemiah’s Vision toured University Baptist following the meeting, assessing what upgrades could be made to accommodate work crews and how many could be housed at one time. With the addition of showers and a laundry room, they estimated 25-30 volunteers could use the facility.

Graff told the crew, “My desire is to get people connected to people. That’s the church.”

Pastors of churches in the northern portion of Galveston County and in southernmost Harris County in the greater Houston area, also offered to host work teams.

The SBTC’s Smith said the convention is keenly aware that the loss of a church also means the loss of a job for pastors. And churches whose congregations are still scattered will begin to suffer financially as offerings dry up.

Smith and Richards have visited pastors in storm-affected areas in an effort to encourage them. Smith said he gave each of the 11 pastors he met with an envelope of money in an effort to tide them over. Richards said pastors who qualify will receive some salary compensation for a few months.

For the long term, the SBTC will coordinate an adopt-a-church program, matching healthy churches with churches in need of financial, physical and spiritual support. The SBTC also has expanded its partnership with Nehemiah’s Vision in a rebuilding program. In the three years since Hurricane Rita, the organization has rebuilt or repaired approximately 525 houses in far southeast Texas.

Information regarding GuideStone insurance premiums waivers also was provided to the pastors. Three months of payments will be waived if a church can meet the following criteria: the church is unable to meet in its facilities; the congregation remains widely dispersed; and the church is unable to pay its pastors and staff. Qualifying pastors should contact Smith at 1-877-953-7282.

Pastors also may receive discounts for books and Sunday School materials from LifeWay Christian Resources.

The meeting was not without its lighter moments and reported miracles. The Rootses, who lost their home and church in Gilchrist, had reportedly died. Sandy said she had no idea where the rumor began. One story had L.C.’s body washing up in Anahuac, she said. It was not until Wednesday after the storm that the Rootses found out, via a local Houston TV news station, that they were indeed alive.

In the face of such loss, the Rootses were able to laugh at the situation. L.C. tries to keep his perspective. Sandy said he keeps repeating, “We didn’t lose anything that we can take to heaven anyway.”
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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