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‘God’s Pit Crew’ helps Floridians cope during hurricane season

MARIANNA, Fla. (BP)–After occupying a church pew for “many years wanting to be a part” but never feeling like he could do anything, a 1999 tornado that devastated Oklahoma City caused Church of God layman Randy Johnson to realize he could contribute to the Kingdom.

And that’s when the gentlemen of “God’s Pit Crew” started their engines, as the NASCAR fans they are might put it.

A member of Riveroak Church of God in Danville, Va., who “sells enclosed trailers for a living,” Johnson decided to load up one of his 20-foot trailers with supplies and take his wife and children all the way to the Sooner State. He said he realized at the time he didn’t know what else to do, but he had to do something. In two weeks’ time, he had stocked two 48-foot trailers and a 20-foot trailer and had gathered enough donations to pay for the trip to Oklahoma.

“That’s where it started, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Johnson told Florida Baptist Witness Sept. 18 at Blue Springs Baptist Conference Center in Marianna, Fla.

Before leaving for Pensacola Sept. 18, the seven-man team had spent the previous day helping residents of Marianna who were victimized by tornados in Jackson County that spun off Hurricane Ivan. On their fourth trip since Hurricane Charley hit the Sunshine State in August, the team was hauling a 53-foot trailer loaded with all their tools and equipment. They also pulled a trailer with heavy equipment like Bobcats and front-end loaders.

“We can do just about anything from cutting trees to rebuilding houses if we need to,” Johnson said.

When something major happens, he starts calling churches until he finds a pastor or church member he can work with, he said. It’s often a Baptist church. “That’s one thing I found out: There’s a Baptist church in every city in the United States,” he noted.

The inter-denominational group of 70 volunteers is made up of evangelicals from various denominations, with about 30 percent being Baptist.

The group is funded by donations from individuals and churches, with four fund-raisers a year as well as funds that come in when the team activates in response to a disaster.

God’s Pit Crew, made up of many NASCAR fans, also sponsors evangelistic events for children with an hour-long program featuring a pit crew demonstration.

“We have a race car and a team of men, just like a NASCAR pit crew. We put on pit stop demonstrations for kids and try to teach them teamwork and [that] God’s got a plan for everybody’s life.”

The opportunity to assist victims of catastrophes “is one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever had,” Johnson said, adding, “I can’t think of a better way to show people that God loves them and [to] be a part of the Kingdom than to go in at their worst, help them and not ask for anything in return.

“I think that really shows the love Christ better than anything you can do.”

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith Sr.