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Mich. Baptists assist in Alabama relief

HARVEST, Ala. (BP)–When Don Bezeau was sawing downed trees in Harvest, Ala., following the deadly tornado outbreak, he met a skeptical resident. The man questioned Bezeau about a logo on a disaster relief vehicle.

“He said, ‘Southern Baptists from Michigan?'” Bezeau recounted.

Bezeau was one of the leaders of a 17-member disaster relief team from the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Most team members helped by cutting fallen trees and hauling logs and branches to the street for homeowners.

The Michigan Baptists drove 600 miles to work in north Alabama because their convention is in the fourth year of a five-year partnership with the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

Bezeau, a member of Frenchtown Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe, Mich., said even before the destruction was over in Alabama, he got a call to be on standby.

Ironically, some members of the chainsaw crew were trained by Alabama Baptists conducting classes in Michigan.

“The gentlemen who came up to train us, they were fantastic,” Bezeau said.

Mickey Nardin, team chaplain and interim pastor of Harvest Baptist Church in Shelby Township, Mich., said the convention in his home state is small compared to Alabama’s, so Michigan churches are more often on the receiving end of the partnership.

But Nardin said the terrible destruction created a need in Alabama and “we are glad to be able to serve.”

Bobby Gilstrap, executive director of the Michigan convention, said the idea of a convention partnership reflects the biblical principle of “coming alongside” to help a brother or sister. Usually that has meant the stronger conventions helping the newer, emerging ones, he said.

While the Michigan convention, with 282 churches, has sent volunteers to Alabama before, Gilstrap said the storms provided a key opportunity for Michigan Baptists to say, “Here is something Alabama needs that we can do,'” akin to a family member pitching in to help another in a crisis.

Rick Lance, executive director and state missionary of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, told Gilstrap that Michigan Baptists’ help in Alabama represents true partnership.

“It’s a two-way street, not a one-way street,” Lance said.

Reggie Quimby, director of the SBOM’s office of global missions, agreed.

“Partnership is about building relationships to serve Christ together. It does not matter … the size of the convention desiring to participate but their desire to serve others in Jesus’ name,” Quimby said.

“When the tornadoes came through Alabama on April 27, our brothers in Michigan called to say they were ready to come to Alabama to help,” he said. “Through these years of partnership, both states have been blessed with Alabama teams going to Michigan and Michigan teams coming to Alabama to make a difference.”

The Michigan disaster relief indeed made a difference.

Emily Spencer of Harvest, for instance, said what workers accomplished May 6 at her home was a huge relief.

While she had no house damage, the trees littering Spencer’s yard were a hazard to her sons, ages 11 and 13, who play outdoors.

“This is a great service, a great mission y’all have,” she said.

Dian Brooks of Bethel Baptist Church in Niles, Mich., a veteran disaster relief volunteer like most members of the team, said she loved the fellowship they experienced while staying at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville. The Michigan and Alabama Baptists teased each other.

“I made breakfast for volunteers the first day, and they wanted to know where the grits were,” she said.

Bezeau, talking over the buzz of chainsaws in Spencer’s yard, said it is good that one convention can support another.

“It’s fantastic you can depend on each other,” he said.
Melanie Smith is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. View the latest e-edition of the newspaper at online.thealabamabaptist.org.

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  • Melanie Smith