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Miss. Baptists step out to help

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Mississippi Baptists joined other first responders in meeting needs across the state in the aftermath of the deadly late April tornadoes.

“When disaster comes to a community, we anticipate that the local churches are going to respond just like they would to any other needs in the community,” said Don Gann, a consultant in the men’s ministry department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

“So when the churches are strong in a community and are able to perform ministry, our role here is just to support that, not to come in and take over. If they need something — access to something that they aren’t able to get but that we may be able to — we can provide that,” Gann said. “But the churches are there to start with. They were there before the storm, and they’ll be there after the storm.”

As an example, Gann said Mark Sandifer, missions pastor at Morrison Heights Church in Clinton, Miss., was one of the first people he saw after the storm hit.

“Mark was up on a roof covering the damaged roof with a tarp. We left a roll of tarp for him. He also gave us permission to set up at the old campus of Morrison Heights.”

Another example is Jon Daniels, pastor of Country Woods Baptist Church in Byram, Miss. Daniels, a volunteer fireman, performed search and rescue operations for the first three hours after the storm hit Clinton.

Philip Price, director of missions for the Jackson County Baptist Association, traveled in the aftermath to Leakesville, Miss., to fill in for Jimmy Holcomb, director of missions for the George-Greene Baptist Association, who was in Peru on a mission trip.

“I was pastor of First Church, Leakesville, up until September of 2009 and have been here in Jackson County since then,” Price said. “I love Leakesville and have a lot of good relationships there.

“The Friday evening it happened, I didn’t know what had happened until about 10 o’clock that night,” Price said. “I got a message to Jim Didlake about it, and he called about 5 the next morning, wanting to know if I could find out any information about the damage. So I got in the car and got up there a little before 7.

“I knew Jimmy was returning from Peru Saturday, so I went to the emergency management office there. They asked me to help coordinate the volunteers and church groups coming in, so I got drafted to do that. I was glad to help. They were wondering how they were going to feed all the deputies and the highway patrol,” Price said. “So I called David Williams, and David got a hold of Doug Crane, a coach at East Central High School there, to help.”

Williams is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Moss Point, Miss.

“Philip called me a little before 8, and nobody knew what had happened at Leakesville,” Williams said. “I didn’t realize the damage was there. Philip said, ‘We don’t have anyone that can feed,’ so we put together what cooking equipment I had personally, and Doug and I went up and cooked hamburgers and French fries to get them started.

“The Red Cross got there and was able to deliver with their trucks. We picked up some supplies at Walmart and were able to fix spaghetti that night. We ended up doing over 300 meals, just the two of us.”

As the afternoon progressed, a few more workers arrived. There was still no electricity at First Baptist Church in Leakesville, only water.

“We were able to feed several firemen, some people from the hospital,” Williams said.

While most of the food went out with the Red Cross, enough was kept on site to feed emergency workers. Later, food was sent to the local community center.

“We did have a chainsaw crew that came up from Jackson County,” Williams said.

Price helped with group feeding from Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Lucedale, Miss. Close to 100 homes in the area were damaged, with 18 destroyed, he said.

“Most of those folks didn’t have insurance. Leakesville is not a wealthy place,” Price said. “One thing that Coach Crane said that motivated us to be involved and to respond was remembering the quick response we got after Katrina. We saw people come down and take initiative, and so we wanted to do the same thing.”

Gann, the men’s ministry consultant, said he was not surprised but was pleased at how people responded to the needs.

“Our people, even those who were right in the middle of it, were there just as early as they could get in,” he said. “I know they are only representative of plenty of others who got involved. For instance, Morrison Heights was supposed to be the shelter for the area, but since they weren’t able to, Parkway Church in Clinton stepped in.”
Tony Martin is associate editor of the Baptist Record in Mississippi.

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  • Tony Martin