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KATRINA DIGEST: SBC meals top 1 million in a week; church gives $160k to Katrina relief; stories of gratefulness abound

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In the first week of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, volunteers prepared more than 1.3 million meals in the Gulf Coast area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Jim Burton, director of the North American Mission Board’s volunteer mobilization team, said he expects Southern Baptist’s national disaster relief response to quickly eclipse disaster services provided following four hurricanes in Florida last year and in New York City following 9/11.

“As of today, we’re approaching 250,000 meals a day and we have more than 200 mobile disaster relief units on site, including about 5,000 trained Southern Baptist volunteers,” Burton said.

Southern Baptist volunteers prepare most of the meals distributed by the American Red Cross as well as provide cleanup and recovery, communications, childcare and other vital disaster services. Southern Baptists are the third-largest disaster relief operation in the country behind the Red Cross and The Salvation Army, with more than 30,000 trained volunteers on call for local, state and national emergencies.

Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fund.

Contributions to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fund can be made online, www.SBC.net, or by calling 1-888-571-5895. Alternately, contributions can be mailed to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fund, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

Vast amounts of money are pouring in for faith-based relief efforts from all over the world as people of all ages whose hearts have been touched by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina empty their piggy banks, set up lemonade stands, pass offering plates or draw large sums of money from their bank accounts.

Among the donors to the hurricane relief effort: the Baptist General Convention of Texas with a $1 million pledge and a Southern Baptist congregation in Florida that forwarded its entire Sunday offering of more than $160,000.

“All of us have been moved, shaken by this awful devastation,” said Charles Wade, executive director of the BGCT. The convention’s gift, with a distribution plan being developed, is in addition to donations Texas Baptist churches have been sending to the relief effort.

McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla., sent its entire Aug. 28 offering receipts totaling $160,041 to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“There are so many people hurting, and they need our help,” Richard Powell, the church’s senior pastor, said. “Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers are preparing [thousands of] meals a day. Chainsaw, clean-up and recovery, and feeding crews are working nearly around-the-clock. They’ve even got trailers loaded down with shower and laundry facilities. But the most important thing: They’re telling people about the love of Jesus Christ — and we’re going to help.”

BAPTISTS WERE FIRST ON THE SCENE — Ben Styles, pastor of New Canaan Baptist Church in Somerville, Ala., recounted that the mother of one of his church members, who lives in Covington, La., reported that Southern Baptists arrived “almost immediately after the hurricane,” and they came with their “chainsaws and food.”

She went on to say that, at the time, Baptists were the only group helping in hard-hit Covington, Styles said. “Both the mother and the daughter were thrilled with the response of Southern Baptists.”

MARRIED AT LAST — Leonard and Annette fled from New Orleans and sought shelter at Greenwell Springs (La.) Baptist Church. The couple had been living together for some time, but after attending services at Greenwell Springs, they told pastor Dennis Terry they wanted to “make things right” and get married.

There were no silver wedding bells on the impromptu wedding cake, but the creation of this new home is one silver lining in the Gulf Coast tragedy. Another is that Leonard and Annette were the first African American couple ever married in the church’s 50 year history.

Tony Perkins, who is president of the Family Research Council and a member of Greenwell Springs, said, “In the midst of this tragic event, I have hope that our state and nation will forever be changed for the better by the racial reconciliation that is happening through the thousands of acts of compassion that we are witnessing.”

NO MEALS WITHOUT BAPTISTS — Mitchell Plumlee, a freelance journalist and disaster relief volunteer with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, quoted Gary Shelton, assistant director of the Red Cross Central Mississippi Chapter of Emergency Services, as saying “I’m not sure what we’d do if the Baptists weren’t cooking meals for us.”

The 41-member Kentucky Baptist disaster relief team at Camp Garaywa in Clinton, Miss., cooked meals for the Red Cross and they delivered them to 11 shelters — many of which were located in Baptist churches — in three Mississippi counties.

EVEN HARRY CONNICK JR. RECEIVES HELP — While waiting for two Georgia Baptist disaster relief kitchen units to arrive at the Westwego, La., police checkpoint, Jay Adkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Westwego, noticed a car pull up.

“I thought I recognized the guy who got out of the car when I heard the officer say, ‘I don’t care who you are. You’re not coming in here,’” Adkins said.

“I walked up and asked the man, ‘Aren’t you Harry Connick Jr.?’ He said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.’

“The police officer said, ‘Are you really? Can I have your autograph?’

“Connick didn’t miss a beat. He said, ‘If you let me in, I’ll give you an autograph.’ The officer let him through.”

Connick asked Adkins if he knew where he could find gasoline.

“I told him that if he could wait until some disaster relief units made it, he could come along and I would give him some gas,” Adkins said. “I couldn’t resist telling him I was a jazz drummer myself. Then he said he had seen two Georgia disaster relief vehicles up the road. I told him those were our guys.”

The Georgia units arrived and Adkins gave the New Orleans native and Grammy-winning jazz musician five gallons of gasoline for his wait.

NAMB OFFERS FREE TRACTS TO STATES — The North American Mission Board is supplying free evangelism tracts to state Baptist conventions involved in the disaster relief response.

John Avant, NAMB’s evangelism vice president, notified state convention directors of evangelism that NAMB also will pay for shipping and handling of the tracts which will include a variety of evangelism pieces including “Here’s Hope,” “Eternal Life,” “Your Life a New Beginning” and “An Important Question,” which is for sharing with children.

The number of tracts available to each convention will depend on their involvement in the response and each state’s relative size, but should total more than 1.6 million.

COLLEGE STUDENTS TAKE INITIATIVE — Students at Corban College, a Christian school in Salem, Ore., decided to help find homes for hurricane survivors by calling nearly all the churches listed in the local telephone directory, asking if they would consider sponsoring evacuee families.

Then the Northwest Baptist Convention in Vancouver, Wash., agreed to send out an e-mail with the same plea to its nearly 450 churches.

“Our students wanted to help these refugees who are suffering so much,” said Karen Willoughby, an English and communications professor who coordinated the project. “The needs are much greater than just financial. These people need a home. They need to feel cared about. They need to feel God’s love.”

‘PROBLEMS HAVE JUST DISAPPEARED’ — Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, relayed a story he heard on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” about a woman in a shelter.

“I’m here with my four children,” she said, “and we feel just fine. This is nice.”

The reporter said, “Wait a minute. You just lost your home and everything you had, and you said this is fine. How can you say that?”

“Because,” the mother said, “we had lots of problems back in New Orleans. People were selling drugs in our neighborhood. It was a scary place to bring up children, and now all our problems have just disappeared.”

“That lady’s perspective reminds us of the good that can come from this storm,” McKeever said. “Everyone has walked outside after a summer storm and noted how clean and fresh the air seemed. To be sure, there has been an incredibly tragic side to Katrina and in no way am I diminishing that. But families who had lost all hope have been handed a miraculous opportunity to go somewhere else and start all over.”

RACISM ERASED BY ACTS OF KINDNESS — McKeever also passed along the following story from his friend Jim Graham in Asheville, N.C.:

“Yesterday I spoke with a dear cousin who lives in Long Beach,
Miss. Incredibly, they lived through Camille and in spite of that experience, decided to ‘sit this one out.’ Obviously we have been apprehensive about her. What a relief to hear her voice and to know she was OK.

“What she told me brought tears of joy to my eyes. She said, ‘Jim, Christian groups are all over this area and from places as far as Michigan. They are feeding, clothing and ministering to people in every conceivable way.’

“For the God-deniers, this black, dark, ugly, mean storm has no bright side. But for those living in the ‘light,’ God is and will be showing up in so many ways, bringing hope and thankfulness to the lives of many, many people,” Graham said.

“A black man from New Orleans said that he had lived his whole life as a racist. He was convinced that white folks were all evil. He has been shown so much love and care since the storm that he says his life has been permanently changed for the better.

“At the end of our emotional conversation, my cousin said, ‘Jimmy, all I can say is that our hearts are filled with thanks. Biloxi, Gulfport, Waveland and most of Long Beach are simply gone. But our hope is not in stuff.’”

McKeever, who also is a nationally known cartoonist, has been chronicling his Katrina-related observations and conversations at www.joemckeever.com.
Compiled by Erin Curry with reporting by Martin King & Art Toalston.

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