ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Disaster relief mud-out work inside a flooded home is a dirty job. The stench of mold and rotting food can be unbearable. Even so, crews of Southern Baptist men and women are on site following the devastating floods in the Midwest.
“They [Southern Baptists] are working like busy beavers,” said one unnamed flood victim in Reedsburg, Wis. “I’ve never seen people go at it and work so hard…. My husband did everything when he built this house. And now we’ll start over again. We’re just overwhelmed.”
The woman said she thought the Baptist disaster recovery team would only be removing mud from her basement. “Then they started talking about taking the walls down and moving out appliances. I never counted on that. It’s a miracle.” To encourage local flood victims, Baptists posted yellow signs near some mud-out sites quoting Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Russ Hohmann, manager of the Southern Baptists’ command center in Reedsburg, a town of 8,500 in central Wisconsin, said the center received 177 requests for mud-out work at the peak of the flooding, but that number is now down to about 40.
Snaking along Reedsburg is the Baraboo River; when it flooded its banks, Hohmann said water filled basements and even reached five to six feet in various homes’ first floors.
“Some homes were hit so hard they were condemned by the city,” Hohmann said. “We had one brand-new mud-out team from the Minnesota-Wisconsin convention to work hard and long to mud-out one house they were told would not be condemned by the city of Reedsburg. But after they were through, the city came in and condemned it anyway.”
Although discouraged, the same team immediately tackled a second house and then a third. The third house was the charm, as team leader Dan Pottner led the woman homeowner to Christ.
“Before that, they were ready to quit, but winning the woman to Christ lifted their spirits and they went on to do another job that afternoon,” Hohmann said.
The first stage for Baptist mud-out crews is to comb neighborhoods, assess damage and field requests from homeowners. Mud-out teams won’t start on a house without permission. Then the crew begins removing furnishings, tearing out drywall, soaked carpets and baseboards.
“We start the day around 5 a.m., eating breakfast at a local host church,” said Ken Gibson, a member of the Baldwin Baptist Association mud-out team that drove more than 17 hours and 1,100 miles from Bay Minette, Ala., to Reedsburg.
“Then we load up our equipment trailer and travel to the site assigned to us. If the house has a basement that’s flooded, we bring our pumps in and pump out the basement. We work as long as we can on a typical day. We usually stay at the typical flooded house five days, maybe seven.”
Without exception, mud-out teams are asked by homeowners, “Why would you travel 1,000 miles to help people you don’t even know?”
“People just have a real hard time understanding why we do that,” Gibson said. “We tell them we’re representing Jesus Christ, and we don’t want to do anything that would cause a bad reflection on the name of Jesus Christ.”
Tommy Puckett, director of disaster ministries for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said disaster relief volunteers typically are given two and a half days of intense training, not counting on-the-job experience.
“We try to train our people to be ready to handle open-ended questions that literally lead to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The people here know about the work. They want to know why and we tell them it’s because God and we love them. That’s why we’re here. It’s an inroad to giving our testimony of Jesus Christ.”
While disaster relief volunteers journeyed to Reedsburg from Southern Baptist churches and associations throughout the country, some 60 volunteers were members of Reedsburg’s own Trinity Baptist Church, whose profile has been enhanced in the community because of its disaster relief work since the flooding.
“Our motivation for training our members for disaster relief was not for local disasters, but was to be able to send out our people on mission trips for disasters in other places,” said Mike Lopp, lead pastor at Trinity Baptist, which runs 225-250 in attendance each Sunday. “We never dreamed we would ever use this disaster relief training right here in Reedsburg” in mud-out work, feeding, child care and chaplaincy.
Lopp said while the church itself was not damaged, the flood has had a significant impact many members and their families and on the community’s spiritual climate.
“Nobody in Reedsburg has ever seen what people are seeing in Reedsburg today,” Lopp said. “You’re seeing groups on their doorsteps, in their driveways and on the streets gathering for prayer for God’s help and mercy. The spiritual climate created has been significant because of the work of the chaplains in listening and directing people to God. It’s lifted the eyes of the city to the Lord. There’s a new openness and deep respect in the community for our church and Southern Baptists.
“Our church already had a strong reputation in the community as a strong and vibrant church, a church here to do something. And the disaster relief has opened opportunities for me personally to enter the homes of people who would not have been excited to see me before.”
Southern Baptist disaster relief crews have been providing not only mud-out and recovery assistance to Midwestern flood victims in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, they also have operated kitchen units to feed victims and volunteers; child care for affected parents; and chaplaincy ministry.
As of June 24, Baptist volunteers had prepared more than 175,000 meals, many of which have been distributed by the American Red Cross in flood-impacted areas across the Midwest.
In addition, Baptists, according to the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., have:
— worked 3,516 volunteer days.
— completed 80 mud-out jobs, with the majority yet to come as floodwaters start to recede in the affected states.
— made available nearly 1,200 showers via disaster relief shower units.
— recorded nearly 1,600 contacts by trained Baptist chaplains, seven professions of faith, 122 Gospel presentations and over 640 other ministry contacts.
According to FEMA, some 3.2 million acres have been flooded in the Midwest in the last two weeks. FEMA estimates that Midwesterners have produced 12.8 million sandbags in their attempts -– unfortunately usually futile -– to fight rising floodwaters.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net and click on “Give Now” near the Disaster Relief logo.
To view disaster relief video, click here.