NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Some mainstream media outlets have given Southern Baptists a chance to explain their motivation for leaving home to help people in great distress along the Texas coastline following Hurricane Ike.
In South Carolina, for example, The State newspaper in Columbia ran a story about the South Carolina Baptist Convention deploying disaster relief teams to Texas. The newspaper said about 200 trained volunteers from the disaster relief group have been sent “to help with cleanup, serve meals, provide clean clothing and offer emotional support” to those affected by Ike.
The State noted that 18 of the South Carolina convention’s 118 volunteer teams will be stationed in Pasadena, Texas, near Galveston, and the newspaper explained that the teams are divided into service areas “including mass feeding teams, chain-saw teams, cleanup teams, shower teams and laundry. Each group also has a crisis intervention chaplain available.”
For South Carolina residents who aren’t familiar with Southern Baptist work, the local newspaper helped get the message out.
“We go as a servant of the Lord,” Brent Dantzler of Harleyville said.
Dantzler has been involved in disaster relief work through the state convention for six years and has responded to about a dozen disasters, The State reported. His team members range in age from 20 to 81 years old, and they help meet victims’ emotional needs as well as physical needs.
“You want to help them to look at the long term to know that there is hope,” Dantzler told The State. “I know there are a lot of hurting people out there. We just want them to know that other people care and that God cares too.”
The newspaper mentioned that the highly organized relief efforts are coordinated through the North American Mission Board and that they complement work done by the American Red Cross.
Cliff Satterwhite, disaster relief coordinator for the South Carolina convention, told The State he expects the volunteers to be in Texas for several months, and he added that one of the main jobs of the chaplains these days is simply to listen.
“It’s pretty heavy,” Satterwhite told the newspaper. “You see a family that’s lost everything and maybe they don’t have insurance. They’re helpless. So there is a lot of hurt.”
WJBF-TV in Augusta, Ga., featured Carol Gilmore, a Southern Baptist disaster relief worker from Thomson, Ga., who was headed to Port Arthur, Texas.
“I feel called by Christ to go out,” she said. “I mean, I think that’s what life is all about. It gives purpose to life.”
Jimmy Steptoe, another volunteer from Thomson, said he didn’t have to think twice about going.
“I feel that it is an honor and a privilege to be able to help your fellow man whenever they are in need. And if you can’t, what else can you do?” Steptoe told the television station.
The Bradenton Herald in Florida ran a story about Southern Baptist volunteers heading to Texas, interviewing Kerry Dennis, a mental health counselor embedded with a Southern Baptist disaster relief unit. He said he tries to provide psychological first aid.
“The best thing for these people is to tell their stories,” Dennis said. “The first thing I do is go up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Kerry,’ and hand them a bottle of water.”
The Herald also said Ed Moss, pastor of Braden River Baptist Church, was coordinating a disaster relief team from the Manatee Baptist Association that planned to help with cleanup and recovery. His assistant, Tom Cole, told the newspaper “this is going to be a long-term project like Katrina.”
As of Sept. 17, at least 48 people in 10 states had died as a result of Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm, USA Today said. More than 6 million people, including 2.5 million in Texas, lost power after the storm hit, and nearly 3.9 million remained without electricity Tuesday.
President Bush visited the region for the third time in two weeks Tuesday to tour the damage and express his “heartfelt sympathies.”
“I have been president long enough to have seen tough situations and have seen the resilience of the people be able to deal with a tough situation,” Bush said from a U.S. Coast Guard hangar in Houston. “It may be hard for people to now envision a better Galveston or a better Orange or some of these other communities that have been affected, but I know with proper help from the federal government and state government there will be a better tomorrow.”
More than 30,000 evacuees were in shelters Tuesday, USA Today said, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to pay for some victims to stay in hotels until Oct. 14.
Several Southern Baptist churches were serving as shelters, including First Baptist Church in Westlake, La., where 200 people had lined up for lunch on Tuesday when the shelter opened at noon. Some of the people said they were picking up one of their first hot meals since Ike forced them to evacuate, according to KPLC-TV in Lake Charles.
In Sherman, Texas, about 35 people remained at Fairview Baptist Church, and the Red Cross said volunteers still have room for about 85 more evacuees there, KXII-TV said.
Another church serving as a shelter welcomed an unexpected guest when a man showed up with a pet lion. Michael Ray Kujawa told the Associated Press he was trying to drive to safety with the lion when he saw vehicles stranded in rising floodwaters. He headed for First Baptist Church in Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula, where volunteers locked the lion in the sanctuary.
Water inundated the church and wooden planks floated through broken windows, AP said, “but the lion was as calm as a kitten.”
“When you have to swim, the lion doesn’t care about eating nobody,” Kujawa said.
Some National Guard troops arrived to drop off food and water, and they sneaked into the church’s choir loft to get a look at the lion, AP said. The soldiers jumped back when the lion looked up from its perch on the altar and snarled, the wire service reported.
The North American Mission Board released cumulative ministry totals for responses to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike Sept. 16. Among the highlights: 9,376 volunteer days; 1,073,994 meals prepared; 17,671 showers; 1,305 chaplaincy contacts; 11,518 ministry contacts and 96 professions of faith.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.