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Katrina-like disaster needs monumental response


DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (BP) — A church van apparently caused a stir in one flood-ravaged town in south Louisiana.

A 12-person team traveled to hard-hit Denham Springs on Saturday, Aug. 20. The disaster relief volunteers — from Longview Baptist Church in Deville, 120 miles to the northwest — were only able to mud-out a couple of houses.

The next week, however, Longview’s phone lit up.

“[O]ther people in the neighborhood saw our van, wrote down the name of our church, Googled it to get our number I would guess, and have been calling non-stop since Monday,” pastor Robby Poole recounted to Louisiana’s Baptist Message on Aug. 26.

“This [cleanup] is not going to end this week, the next week, next month, or next year,” Poole told the Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“These families desperately need our help. We are being the hands and feet of Jesus and the gratitude of these families’ faces speaks louder than words,” the pastor said. “It is important these people know they are not alone.”

Longview is one of hundreds of Louisiana churches outside the 20-parish flood zone that are sending volunteers to tackle mud-out, mold removal and related services for stricken churches and homeowners, the Message reported.

An estimated 1,000 disaster relief volunteers from across Louisiana and 22 other state conventions are on the field on any given day, according to the Message, since the historic flooding began Saturday morning, Aug. 13, after 48 hours of likewise-historic rainfall.

The unfolding recovery effort will need “the biggest mobilization of manpower since Hurricane Katrina,” John Hebert, the Louisiana convention’s director of missions, stated.

The monumental task facing Louisiana encompasses a now-estimated 155,000 homes that were destroyed or damaged. This figure is about two-and-a-half times the number previously reported. For Baptists, the challenge also extends to an updated total of 75 flood-battered churches and 70 pastors whose homes were lost or damaged.

Hebert is hopeful for a large influx of volunteers during the three-day Labor Day weekend.

“Look, I thank God for the help and support we have been getting from all over the United States,” Hebert said. “So far, we have received $260,000 in donations, received countless truckloads of much-needed supplies and food, and lots of prayers.

“But now we are praying God will stir a great army of volunteers to come and help us try to get ahead of this thing,” Hebert said. “To every volunteer, church, association and neighbor, I just want to say God bless you.”

Battling mold is becoming critical, Poole said after Longview’s second trip to Denham Springs on Aug. 25, noting, “In this heat and humidity it is literally spreading like wildfire.”

Protocol for disaster relief volunteer deployment by the Louisiana Baptist Convention entails completion of a sign-up form posted at https://louisianabaptists.org/volunteerDR. An area coordinator then will contact groups/individuals about key locations where assistance is needed.

Additional information about the convention’s relief initiatives, as well as a link for providing financial assistance, can be accessed at LouisianaBaptists.org/DisasterRelief or the Baptist Message website, BaptistMessage.com. To date, Baptist relief kitchens have prepared more than a quarter-million meals; cleanup crews have completed 400 work orders; and volunteers, in sharing their faith, have helped more than 60 flood survivors turn to faith in Christ.

The Louisiana convention has provided financial assistance to pastors in the flood zone, the Message reported Aug. 25. They also are eliciting church partners for the congregations whose facilities were inundated by water.

“Many of the area pastors are working in their communities in addition to tending to their own needs,” said David Hankins, the Louisiana convention’s executive director.

“We want them to know we stand with them during this difficult and demanding time and will do everything we can to assist them in every way possible,” Hankins said.

“Louisiana Baptists are again showing their commitment to the Lord and their communities by their quick and sacrificial response to this historical event,” he added. “Our state missions staff is working with area [directors of missions] in an attempt to account for every pastor and every church in the affected areas.”

Amid the sudden onslaught of rain and flooding, reports of the miraculous have emerged.

At Don Avenue Baptist Church in Denham Springs, the facility’s interior was destroyed by 6 feet of flooding from the Amite River.

But the Lord’s Supper table was lifted by the floodwater and moved out a side door of the worship center, around a corner in the hallway and turned 90 degrees against the flow to keep it in place in the back corridor — with the church Bible and offering plates intact.

“I just thought of Jesus’ declaration in Matthew, that ‘heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away,” said Patti Higginbotham, whose husband Tom is the church’s pastor. “I immediately sent a text to everyone in the church to encourage them with the news. I believe it was a way God was telling us He sees us and knows about our situation in this disaster.

“He preserves His Word in our hearts,” she said, “but He also saw fit to preserve the tangible Word, the church Bible.”

When the congregation met in a sister church for worship Aug. 21, they used the preserved offering plates while the protected Bible was on display for all to see.

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  • Baptist Message & BP Staff
    Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Will Hall, Philip Timothy and Brian Blackwell of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the LouisianaBaptist Convention.Read All by Baptist Message & BP Staff ›