News Articles

Iowa residents cope with disaster

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (BP)–Dan Wiersema, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, wanted his congregation to know June 15 that even though the historic flood overwhelming the state looks like utter devastation, God has a specific purpose for it that ultimately will advance His Kingdom purposes.

“Yesterday I preached on responding to the flood, and I pointed out to our congregation that disasters are not necessarily representing the judgment of God,” Wiersema told Baptist Press. “It should prompt us to turn to God, and it provides an opportunity to have our lives become more fruitful to touch lives.”

Southern Baptists are hard at work trying to show unbelievers that good can come from bad when God is involved. Disaster relief workers from several states are convening in Iowa to serve meals, counsel grieving residents and provide shower facilities in a region reeling from record floods.

“It’s just like a military operation when we see a need,” Donald Kimbell, commander of the temporary Baptist incident response center in Des Moines, said. “We coordinate units and call in more units if needed. We see that the units are properly equipped to be able to do the job that they intend.”

Kimbell said the response center, which includes three other workers and was getting set up in the offices of the Baptist State Convention of Iowa, will have direct contact with the North American Mission Board, relaying numbers, needs and other information.

“I’m a retired police officer,” Kimbell, a volunteer from Louisiana, said. “I’m familiar with the incident command system, so God has led me to work with NAMB. I’ve got some good people working for me and we are so thankful to be here in Iowa to help.”

Wiersema said he was at a children’s camp when news came that Cedar Rapids was in danger of flooding. His house was not threatened, he said, but three families from his church were displaced when the waters reached their homes.

“They are staying with relatives,” he said of one of the families. “They are looking for a long-term home and they still haven’t found out if the home that they evacuated will be able to be repaired and salvaged.”

Immanuel Baptist, which has 120-140 people in attendance on Sundays, is hosting a disaster relief feeding unit from Texas, Wiersema said. The unit is set up in the parking lot, and volunteers are sleeping in the church at night. The building was not affected by floodwaters.

“We have asked our church members who are willing to help serve in the cleanup to sign up to volunteer and to be in contact with us as we become aware of needs,” Wiersema said.

Travel within Cedar Rapids has been challenging, Wiersema said, because the Cedar River runs through the middle of the city and its bridges have been impassible.

“In some instances, people have been redirected hundreds of miles to get from one side of the Cedar River to the other,” he said, adding that the last report he heard indicated the river was expected to return to its banks by June 19.

Wiersema asked Southern Baptist to pray for the disaster relief workers onsite in Iowa.

“Pray for the love of God to be delivered through the meals that are provided and the care that is being shown,” he said. “Pray for our civil authorities that are responding as best they can. Many are working tremendously long hours.”

He also mentioned the unique opportunity Southern Baptists have in the state as they respond to a major disaster that caused the evacuation of more than 36,000 residents in 26 communities.

“Iowa is a pioneer state for Southern Baptists, relatively speaking. We have about 100 churches across the state. It’s a growth area,” Wiersema said.

Richard Nations, editor of the Iowa Baptist newspaper, spoke to Baptist Press after attending a disaster relief meeting at the state offices in Des Moines. He reported that a shower unit from the Kentucky Baptist Convention was damaged en route to Iowa.

“It was in Morton, Ill., near Peoria, and encountered 75 mph winds, and the trailer was blown over,” Nations said. “The unit is unusable at this point, and the insurance adjusters think it might be totaled.”

The drivers, who were “kind of shaken up,” left the shower unit in a parking lot in Morton, where Nations said a Baptist layman who lives nearby has been providing updates and the local police department has been making sure it’s secure.

“Disaster relief authorities decided to call in a unit from Arkansas and take the one from Kentucky out of service,” Nations said.

On Monday, officials reported four people had died from flooding in Iowa, including a 35-year-old man who drowned in the Iowa River, the Associated Press said. President Bush was scheduled to visit the Midwest on Thursday for a firsthand look at flood damage.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach