SEBASTIAN, Fla. (BP)–Two-year-old Bobby Berry is too hot to take a nap. A rash has sprung up on his little body and he tells his mom he doesn’t want to eat.
Wide-eyed and bewildered, he points to a huge gaping hole in the ceiling of his rain-soaked bedroom where a ceiling fan is barely suspended by slivers of shattered wood. “Up there,” he whispers, head bobbing up and down.
Since arriving back at his home after his family evacuated ahead of Hurricane Frances, Bobby oft repeats his all-too-familiar mantra: “I don’t feel good. Can I have a hug?”
Though his mom has been careful to keep the door to his room closed, every time it rains, water pours through the tarp on the roof and through the ceiling, down the hallway and into the bathroom. After nearly a week, the soggy mess is beginning to mold during the hot, steamy days. And Bobby’s clothes are simmering inside his wooden dresser swollen shut by the water.
At Cornerstone Baptist Fellowship in Sebastian, Fla., Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers offered him a hug and a warm meal — one of the first he has had in days, his mother, Brenda Barry, told the Florida Baptist Witness Sept. 10.
Barry said she and her disabled husband were surprised and grateful when a North Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief crew showed up on her doorstep offering to take the tree off the house and put up a tarp to help shelter their family home from further water damage.
And when they told her warm meals were being served by another team at the church, she headed there.
Berry said she had been praying for electricity to be restored soon but was fearful of what might happen when it is.
“I don’t know how long it will take to get it fixed or what we are going to have to do or if we’ll be able to stay here or where we’ll go,” she said from her home in an attractive Sebastian neighborhood. “There’s some out there who are worse than us.
“All I am worried about is taking care of him,” said Berry, stroking Bobby’s dark, neatly cut hair. “But as long as he’s OK, I’m alright.”
At the church, Stanley Sparkman, Cornerstone’s bivocational pastor, joked with Bobby as the youngster gave a thumbs-up sign to workers.
Sparkman told the Witness he would ask an electrician who is a member of the church to go by the Berry home to assess the situation and see what might need to be done to keep them safe once electricity is restored.
The pastor, who also teaches at a local high school, said the people in the community had begun to depend on the steady meals -– until that source of comfort was disrupted by the threat of Hurricane Ivan in mid-September.
The feeding crews had to evacuate “because if they get caught in the storm and they lose their equipment, then they can’t go to the other disaster relief areas that need the feeding,” Sparkman said. “They were not really wanting to leave. They knew that they were starting to really … touch this community.”
Ironically, most of the workers were from Brevard, N.C., an area hit hard by Frances’ rains as it moved up the East Coast.
“They called home and made assessments over the telephone with families,” Sparkman said. “A lot of their homes [were] flooded as they were down here trying to bail these people out of this situation.”
A full unit of about 50 had left a skeleton crew of 15 — including a recovery unit to continue to help remove trees from people’s homes and place tarps over damaged roofs, said site leader Skip Grenne from Courtney Baptist Church in Yadkinville, N.C.
Grenne and fellow church member John Baity both celebrated their 57th birthday working to deliver relief to the Sebastian area.
Sparkman said the relief unit had been “amazing” and had come at a time his own people were “digging out” at their own homes.
Roof damage by falling trees is widespread in the area, he reported.
“Some of them lost parts of their homes because the trees went through the ceilings and stuff and we’ve been around to them and delivering meals to them and just looking at them and trying to make sure that they’re OK,” Sparkman said.
Once word began to spread that food was available at the church, there was no turning back. “We just said let’s help and let’s get going … and they served I don’t know how many thousands,” Sparkman said. “And people were just parking out here on the street, just walking across the campus. They would get in line and they’d get ministered to a little bit because all of the [disaster relief volunteers] are trained. They all love the Lord.”
One of the memories Sparkman said he will keep forever is the look on people’s faces after they are ministered to.
“I will remember the whole family coming in with no expression at all except for a downcast look and then to come out with their kids, all carrying this hot food and smiling.”
The special ministry to the community will surely catch the eye of those who have seen the church as just another part of the landscape in the past, Sparkman predicted.
“We try to attract attention by doing special things, but now this, when you meet a need, that speaks to your heart,” he said.
Sparkman said he was looking forward to Sunday when the church, which generally has about 50 in worship, could have “a whole slew” of visitors.
“We’re going to have a service even though we don’t have power, and I’m going to mention the [Florida Baptist Convention’s] Maguire State Mission Offering because of the fact that this is the kind of thing that the Maguire State Offering ministers to,” he continued. “So, we’re excited about it. We’ve got a lot of work because of the people that are going to be touched.”
As the day neared its end, the pastor, riding out to visit a church member, lost his way trying to find the home without familiar landmarks that were taken out by falling trees. He took appreciative note of the power crews that were working 24 hours a day to get things running.
Finally getting his bearings, Sparkman pointed out the bashed-in garage door and roof of “Butch” Antill’s house.
Antill, 82, was waiting for the pastor inside a darkened living room where he sat with his legs propped up on a recliner facing the front door. Next to him, an oxygen tank sat waiting. Overhead, black plastic covering spread across the ceiling to prevent leaks from around a ceiling fan.
Butch had triple bypass surgery this past summer followed by pneumonia. He pointed out the damage to his garage, and told the Witness he and about seven to nine other family and friends gathered in his home the night of the hurricane.
“We stayed up all night taking care of the water that was dripping on the rugs and the wind blowing in the garage door,” Antill said. “There wasn’t much sleep.”
Despite the hurricane’s intensity and the damage to his home, Antill said none of his wife’s china or collectibles on a shelf high above the dining room, on the same side of the house as the garage, was broken.
“I haven’t lost any faith,” Antill said. “… He just dropped me down a peg or two. It could have been a lot worse. It’s bad, but it could be worse. I don’t get discouraged.”
The father of four, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1974 after 27 years, said he had been pretty active in the church in the past and appreciates visits from the pastor and others.
“It cheers me up. He looks at me and laughs,” Antill joked. “Cornerstone is good about visitation.”
Antill said he even trained to work with Florida Baptist Disaster Relief but ran into problems and had to drop out.
“I have the yellow hat,” he said of the familiar cap work by the Baptist crews.
Sparkman asked him for the second time if Antill wanted him to bring a hot meal to the house.
“No, no, but what did they have?” Antill asked. “That food they had yesterday was pretty good.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com. Financial contributions to relief efforts may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave. Jacksonville, FL 32207. Checks should be made payable to the Florida Baptist Convention and noted for designation to hurricane relief. To make a donation using Visa, MasterCard or Discover, call 1-800-226-8584, ext. 3049; be ready to provide the following information: credit card number; expiration date; first and last name as it appears on the card; billing address including city, state and zip code; e-mail and phone number. To aid in relief efforts in Alabama after Hurricane Ivan, contributions for “Disaster Relief” can be sent to Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, P.O. Box 11870, Montgomery, AL 36111-0870. Contributions to offset costs of the disaster relief response also can be given to the North American Mission Board, online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to the North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.