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Historic floods draw Baptist relief efforts

HOUSTON (BP) — Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief leaders had “boots on the ground” in Houston Thursday (May 28) following a month of historic rains and tornadoes across Texas and Oklahoma that led to deadly flooding over Memorial Day weekend with at least 15 dead and hundreds evacuated.

While images of separated families in raging waters, floating cars, submerged intersections and uprooted caskets caught the nation’s attention and caused an outpouring of concern, Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief at the North American Mission Board, said it is each individual’s unique situation that becomes the focus of a volunteer’s effort.

Every team sent out by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief — the largest network of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States — brings “help, healing and hope” to those affected by natural events, Wilson said.

“We are there to walk with them through cleaning and when they are beginning to try and get a handle on things so they can rebuild,” Wilson said. “Our folks are trained in how to provide not only physical needs, but also provide emotional and spiritual care in a disaster setting.

“In sending that team, we hope people see that God loves them and we are attempting to show them that — not just tell them,” Wilson said.

Volunteers ready when Houston waters recede

In Houston, Scottie Stice, director of Disaster Relief Ministries for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), said leaders are busy assessing needs after storms over the weekend dumped 6 to 11 inches of rain on the area.

“We want to see exactly which neighborhoods are under water and where they are in the city so that we can formulate our response,” Stice said, noting volunteers must wait until waters recede before they can begin to help.

Houston’s mayor on Tuesday (May 26) said there were at least 4,000 homes and businesses affected by floodwaters. More water may be expected by the weekend.

Texas Baptist Men also has volunteers on the ground in Houston assessing the situation and working with churches, said Terry Henderson, the organization’s director.

Henderson anticipated the Houston response — as well as those throughout other areas of the state — will be long and protracted.

“We will be calling on other states to help us,” Henderson said.

Massive flooding affects half of Oklahoma

Sam Porter, state director of disaster relief for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), said this has been an unusual and record year in many ways for the state.

A record 25-30 small tornadoes spotted across Oklahoma were followed by two major tornadoes in Moore, Okla., in March, and then a massive amount of rain in May.

“We had been praying for the drought to break — we now have snorkels up,” he said.

In the past 10 days, Porter said the same system that overwhelmed Texas also impacted Oklahoma.

With a command center set up at First Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., Porter said volunteers are spreading out to meet tremendous needs with homes flooded in 38 of the state’s 77 counties.

With only two mud-out trailers to help, Porter said his greatest challenge has been to think about how to approach the situation.

“This thing is getting to biblical proportions,” Porter said. “We are having floods everywhere. There are not enough mud-out guys across the Southern Baptist Convention to handle this.”

So he prayed, and by Sunday night (May 24) came up with a plan to hold training sessions in order to multiply the laborers — by inviting leaders and volunteers from other faith-based groups and residents.

The training is being held regionally across the state by expertly-trained recovery instructors and there is no charge for those who want to attend, Porter said.

He also brought BGCO leaders on board to film a 30-minute instructional video to post on its website with steps on how to remove water and “wet stuff” and “kill the mold” in order to salvage a home.

“I’m trying to think God-sized here,” Porter said.

At NAMB, Wilson said he has heard from many Southern Baptists who wondered how they could help. In addition to urging prayer, the North American Mission Board sent out a semi-truck loaded down with supplies specifically needed for mud-out operations.

“Coordinating this response through our disaster response center for the body of Christ is really what makes the ministry to the one family, through the team happen,” he said.

Dozens of facemasks, shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, water, disposable suits and other equipment left NAMB headquarters early Thursday morning (May 28).

In addition to mud-out operations in Norman, a mobile feeding unit began feeding 2,500 a day May 23. Another unit in Poteau is producing 750 hot meals a day.

Other volunteers are working across the state in Atoka, the Tulsa area, Waurika, Lawton and Elk City.

At the end of the day, it’s the recent memory of 21 people who accepted Christ in the middle of their flooded or tornado-torn homes that keeps Porter going.

“We do this because we love God,” he said. “We do disaster relief to earn the right to share the Gospel.”

Baptists across Texas

With “very strange” weather patterns across the Texas plains in May, Stice said its SBTC disaster relief ministry teams have been hard at work primarily in North Texas already — before the most recent severe thunderstorms hit.

When a wall of water forced rivers in Wimberly to rise to nearly 40 feet — 20 feet over what historians call the 500 year flood mark — Stice said he began to focus energy on asking volunteers to do whatever they could.

Flash floods there destroyed more than 350 homes and left up to 1,000 homeless, news reports have said.

“We were in 11 different places in May,” he said. SBTC disaster relief ministry teams are equipped for various operations including feeding, recovery with chainsaw, mud-out and blue tarp duties, communications, chaplains assessment, shower and laundry operations, water purification and more.

Stice said there is also an SBTS clean up and recovery crew working at the campus of Jacksonville College in Texas, and a mud-out team working at the home of a widow in Arlington.

Stice said he is appreciative of “closely coordinated, good relationships” in Texas between Southern Baptists and volunteer organizations like American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

“It’s just heartbreaking, and we pray for the victims and the volunteers and churches as they volunteer for the ministry,” he said.

Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers — including chaplains — and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

For more information on how you can help Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, go to namb.net/disaster-relief-donations/.

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  • Joni Hannigan