BARRE, Vt. (BP) — In flood-ravaged Vermont, chances to share the Gospel can come in unexpected ways — including suspected looters.
Phill Steadman, pastor of Capstone Baptist Church in North Bennington, was helping clean a house after Hurricane Irene’s remnants deluged the state when he caught a man apparently attempting to loot the property.
“Before the conversation was over, I’d had an opportunity to share the Gospel with this guy,” Steadman said.
The man recounted to Steadman that he once was in a coma after a car accident and had a dream of an old man looking through a book. The suspected looter didn’t know what the dream meant.
“I told him it was the Book of the Lamb, and I wanted to know if his name was in there,” Steadman said. “So it was a great opening to be able to share the Gospel with him. He also stopped looting the house.”
As Baptists like Steadman and Capstone Baptist’s members continue to minister in word and deed, the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief effort in Vermont is slated to stand down Oct. 15. After that, any remaining work will be turned over to local churches and Vermont’s chapter of VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters), an association of organizations that do volunteer work.
With a backlog of houses to be cleansed of mold and a limited number of volunteers, Terry Dorsett, director of missions for the Green Mountain Baptist Association, is grateful for every Southern Baptist Disaster Relief vehicle he sees on Vermont’s roads. But he also has a plea for Southern Baptists around the country:
“This is a pivotal moment in Vermont Baptist history. Don’t fail us now.”
Larry Koch, commander at the Southern Baptist command center at Resurrection Baptist Church in Mont Pelier, said the list of mud-out jobs in Vermont ready for work is more than the limited number of volunteers can handle in just a few weeks. In any case, he doesn’t have room to house enough people to finish the job.
“It’s very unlikely that we will clean the slate,” he said, although he hopes a potential large volunteer crew of Liberty University students from Virginia may change that.
Mud-out jobs to cleanse flooded houses of toxic mold spores can be grueling tasks. After dragging everything out of affected areas of the house and shoveling out the remaining mud, the crew must tear out all paneling, sheet rock, insulation — anything that can hold water and thus mold — up to a foot above the flood’s water line. Usually the floors go too. Next comes a power wash, followed by crews treating everything with a bleach solution that kills mold. Finally, a crew has to go back and rebuild the part of the house that was torn out.
All this happens while the homeowner’s belongings — their whole lives — sit out on the lawn.
“So you’ve got to oftentimes sit down with them and go through with them the things that can be kept and cleaned and the things that need to be thrown away,” said Bruce James, who serves as the evangelism and men’s ministry director for the Baptist Convention of New England and currently directs disaster relief for the convention. “For some people, that’s extremely difficult and heartbreaking….”
Homeowners who have insurance can pay for the mud-out work to be done, but those who don’t have it rely on volunteers like Vermont Baptists and Southern Baptists from other parts of the country.
“That’s the challenge,” Dorsett said. “As the urgency [of the situation] wanes, the teams wane as well, and the long-term effect of this is going to take us another two or three months before we’re really done with this. And the short attention span of the American public will have moved on before the problem’s actually all fixed.”
In the meantime, local church members and Southern Baptist volunteers are working every day to reach out with both physical aid and hope in Christ. People who were once told to grab a shovel and go help now are being trained more thoroughly, and independent-minded Vermonters are opening their homes to Vermont Baptists offering assistance.
“We’ve been able to pray with virtually everyone we’ve worked with,” Steadman said. “We’ve had folks who have been coming to church since the hurricane that we would have never met any other way.”
Steadman asks Southern Baptists to keep in mind the ripple effects of current disaster relief efforts: People who otherwise might have never been exposed to the Gospel are now hearing it, and long-term relationships are being developed.
“So somebody may come and spend a week or two weeks on a disaster relief trip or on a short-term mission trip,” the Vermont pastor said, “but the implications can be eternal.”
John Evans is a writer based in Houston.