COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP) — Amid the deluge and flooding of Hurricane Joaquin, a church and a homeless shelter on opposite sides of Columbia, S.C., were about to connect.
Rosewood Baptist pastor Bob Morgan and a few lay leaders were checking on the church building on Sunday morning, Oct. 4, following overnight flooding. Morning services were cancelled, and the men tended to minor leaks and reinforced other areas before leaving.
Then Morgan’s phone rang.
Across town, a homeless shelter by the Broad River was quickly filling with water. Desperate for a place to relocate nearly 100 people already living there, the local United Way president called the one person he knew who could mobilize volunteers quickly: Bill Dieckmann, director of missions for Columbia Metro Baptist Association.
“[United Way’s] Mac Bennett and I have worked together since Hurricane Katrina, and when he needs help, he knows to call the Baptists,” Dieckmann said.
With Rosewood’s gymnasium in mind, Dieckmann called Morgan to inquire about its availability.
Morgan saw it as “a great opportunity to minister and help, and to challenge our church at the same time,” even though Rosewood had ever done anything like the project set before them.
Over the next four hours, a makeshift shelter was assembled, complete with 75 borrowed cots. Pipe-and-drape materials were set up as privacy dividers. Members pulled together food for a meal and gathered items from the church’s clothing closet.
By the time three city buses arrived at 2 p.m. with those displaced by flooding, Rosewood was ready to welcome them and tend to their basic needs. Dieckmann led the group in a prayer.
Heartbreaking stories of loss were immediately apparent.
“I saw a young lady about 12 years old walk in with no shoes on her feet. She was soaking wet and scared,” Dieckmann recounted. “One of the ladies gave her a hug and went to find dry clothes for her. Another woman who looked to be in her 20s had only a long top on. She was shaking, nervous and scared, and to see that church love on her was amazing.”
Sadly, the flood victims had to be transported to several different locations that Sunday evening because of rising floodwater around Columbia. After Rosewood lost running water in the early evening, city buses carried the people to a local high school, only to find its water also out and, finally, to another area of town that still had running water.
“I’m so proud of Rosewood,” Dieckmann said. “They didn’t just put people on the buses and say goodbye. They loaded the bedding, got on the buses, went with them, and followed them” to the final destination.
As information spread through social media and word of mouth, clothing, food and other supplies began showing up at Rosewood. The community response was so great that the gym shifted from a shelter to an emergency relief site.
Morgan, Rosewood’s pastor, estimates that over the next 10 days the church’s gym filled with donations and then was emptied of its contents six times over. Volunteers from Rosewood and other local churches and the community worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day in the gym.
Morgan reported seeing constant examples of God’s direction and provision. A white envelope, marked “From Erin,” contained three dollar bills and the message, “To you.” A child offered her allowance from a piggy bank to help “a flood family.” An older woman delivered a bag of items to share — one can of corn, a roll of toilet paper and a box of Jell-O. A man from New Jersey found Rosewood through Google, called Morgan, and told him to expect a FedEx delivery the next day containing a monetary gift for relief efforts.
“God’s plan was greater than ours in this,” Morgan said. “We managed to have what was needed, or knew how to find it in the moment. God is at work in the hearts of people here, as we are trying to be the church God has for us to be on Rosewood Drive.”
Randy Creamer, South Carolina Baptists’ disaster relief coordinator, said local churches can be one of the most valuable assets in the face of catastrophic events like flooding.
“The simple presence of a church does not guarantee their engagement in a time of crisis,” Creamer said. “It requires the sacrificial commitment of everyone — church staff, leaders, members — and it is truly a team effort. I could never adequately express my gratitude for SCBC churches like Rosewood and associations that have stepped up all across our great state to be the body of Christ.”
Sue Harmon, the state convention’s disaster relief operations manager, said Rosewood has been an “epicenter church.”
“They’re right there in the city and have been on the forefront of ministry from the first day,” Harmon said.
For now, Rosewood has transitioned to being a part of long-term relief care in the community. The contents of the gymnasium have been moved to a permanent warehouse to be stored until needed.
Morgan said God has worked throughout Rosewood’s experience. “It’s been an affirmation to see that even in the middle of the flood, we are answering God’s call,” he said. “I can’t control the flood, but I can say that this is what we will do in response to it.”
But now, as Dieckmann noted, the hard work really begins. “The cameras and coverage will go away, and volunteers will go home, but there will still be people who have lost everything and are not back in their houses,” he said.
“The needs will continue for years.”
Dieckmann is thankful Rosewood said yes when he called. “I didn’t have a plan B.”
Disaster relief in response to South Carolina’s historic flood moved into its fifth week in early November.
Many of the recent homeowner requests have been for roof tarping, as continued rains have turned small roof issues into larger problems. South Carolina disaster relief teams that can do roof tarping are asked to contact the state disaster relief office with available dates to work. The DR office is on the Web at www.scbaptist.org/dr and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scdisasterrelief.