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S.C. church serves community in Florence aftermath

DILLON, S.C. (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers came to bring help, healing and hope to Hurricane Florence survivors in Dillon, S.C. And they were met with overwhelming support and appreciation from the community and their host, First Baptist Church of Dillon.

Dillon County, with a population of about 30,000, has suffered three major disasters from storms in the last four years. Flood waters in 2015 devastated much of the state from Columbia to the coastal areas. Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016 and Hurricane Florence followed in September this year with its heavy, unceasing rains, which caused much flooding that damaged homes and businesses, some for the second time since 2015.

Through it all, South Carolina Disaster Relief director Randy Creamer said the community is resilient and commends the church for its response. South Carolina has two other command sites, one at Living Water Baptist in North Myrtle Beach and the third at North Conway Baptist Church in Conway. Many individual churches are also serving.

FBC Dillon responded to the storm immediately, Creamer said, with some of its staff serving with first responders and helping with rescues.

“They have opened the doors of the church with open hearts,” Creamer said. “They don’t mind being disrupted or inconvenienced. They simply want to touch their community and share the Gospel by living it out.”

Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), called the church “a great example for the whole nation.”

Mike Felker, an SBDR volunteer from Flint Baptist Church in Flint, Texas, said members of the community have been touched by the service volunteers are providing.

“A lady in a grocery store came up to me and just cried and thanked me for what volunteers are doing, asking me, ‘Can I give you a hug?'” Felker said. “‘The church has bent over backwards for anything we need.'”

FBC Dillon associate pastor Jamie Arnette worked alongside first responders for the first several days after the storm. He said the church started serving the community immediately, and multiple groups, including former members, sent everything from food, supplies, pumps and Blessing Buckets, which were filled with cleaning supplies and a Bible.

“Everyone I’ve come into contact with has been amazing,” Arnette said.

Flood waters rose two feet in the downtown area, but the church did not take on any water. The church did sustain roof damage to a utility building that housed a clothing closet. Members promptly cleared the closet and distributed the clothes from the parking lot. They also delivered meals in the community.

Jean Norris, a 30-year member of the church, said it is difficult to see all the devastation and especially the people who were hit twice. “We try to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” she said. “And Pastor Jamie has been trying to teach us how to be disciples.”

Norris and a few other women of the church help take care of Arnette’s wife Kathy, who has Huntington’s Disease and needs round-the-clock care. The women take shifts and stay with Kathy for three days a week. They have helped the Arnettes for the last eight years.

Norris said it is a joy to be with Kathy and she feels blessed to be able to do it.

“Looking back,” Arnette said, “God has used the church to minister to us in inexpressible ways.”

Senior Pastor Dickie Cullum, who has led the church for 23 years, will retire this fall.

“The Lord is really using the disaster relief ministry,” he said. “We’ve been twice blessed to be the recipients of the amazing response and the love and the grace of the volunteers. We can’t adequately express our appreciation. This has been such a blessing.”

A South Carolina mud-out team received two separate donations from homeowners totaling $5,500 given to The Pee Dee Baptist Association. The team leader said the owners were thankful for the volunteers’ work on their flooded-out homes.

As of Oct. 2, Southern Baptists have reported serving more than 1 million meals to survivors of Hurricane Florence and seen more than 80 professions of faith. SBDR teams have helped more than 1,000 homeowners through mudding out homes, cleaning up yards and providing temporary roofing.

As the response continues, Creamer said more trained mud-out crews are needed for the long-term. For more information on how you can help, contact your local Baptist associations and state Baptist disaster relief ministry. Or, visit namb.net/Florence to connect with state disaster relief teams.

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  • Laura Sikes