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She overcomes illness, serves hurricane survivors

LUMBERTON, N.C. (BP) — Jean Freeman felt useless.

Months before Hurricane Matthew hammered the East Coast, including her hometown of Lumberton, N.C., Freeman was lying in a hospital bed fighting her second round of cancer. Yet Freeman, who is a member of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, said she was quickly reminded of God’s “innate ability to use anybody at any time” after the hurricane hit.

“While I was in the hospital, there were so many people taking care of me,” Freeman said. “I used to lie there and feel like I wasn’t doing anybody any good. But, though I felt useless then, God had so much in store for me where I could give back later.”

Hurricane Matthew brought Freeman an opportunity to help others when it swept the small coastal town of 21,542 people. Freeman was one of the 1,500 home owners in Lumberton living without power for five days. With most of the roads closed, residents were told to wait it out or call for help if needed.

Three days after Hurricane Matthew engulfed the streets of Lumberton on October 9, the road leading to Hyde Park Baptist Church opened. Lumberton residents were able to go there to find food, water and shelter.

“I guess I’d been too sick for too long and was tired of waiting around in general,” Freeman said. “So, when my church contacted me about a road opening up and their need for volunteers, I jumped at the chance to serve. I knew the Lord was bringing me an opportunity to give back and to feel instrumental again.”

Freeman, who was still suffering the effects of past cancer treatments — including a stroke — had doubts about volunteering. She couldn’t lift much. Her speech was slurred, and she tired easily.

“For a moment I thought, ‘Can I do this? Can I really volunteer?'” Freeman said.

She went to the Hyde Park Baptist Church website and began looking for volunteer opportunities.

“When I came across the box marked, ‘registration,’ I knew that was something I could do,” Freeman said. “And boy was I excited!”

Freeman spent 12 hours a day for 17 days working alongside community and church volunteers, organizing food and water distribution pallets, recording statistics, registering volunteers and leading teams to create shelters within the church for survivors who lost their homes in the flood.

“I was in awe of how God truly used me and others like me who had lost their homes or had previously felt limited in their abilities to share God’s love in action,” Freeman said. “By the end of my time serving, I was walking a lot and had built quite a bit of stamina. I knew volunteering was definitely a God thing.”

Rebuilding the community

While Freeman and more than 1,000 church and local volunteers handled the logistical side of things, North Carolina Baptist Men volunteers served hot meals to two lines of traffic coming for food, water and shelter. More than 167,465 meals were served during the course of two weeks and two days. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers from eight different states also brought shower units and laundry units to Lumberton the day after the storm, providing 134 showers and completing 669 loads of laundry.

“Those who served side by side with me had also lost much,” Freeman said. “Yet, there they were. Day in and day out, giving back to the community when there was nothing that could be done to their own lost homes. It was a beautiful thing to see.”

Jeff Blackburn, senior pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church, said the church was honored to carry out an “extensive operation that worked towards rebuilding the community.”

“It was a blessing to be a place where our neighbors could come together and serve,” Blackburn said. “We had quite a few organizations as well as the Baptist men and women giving their time and energy to help us. We had over 1,000 volunteers locally and from our church, too, on the front lines helping people. We were solely focused on meeting the basic needs, first.”

Now, Blackburn is transitioning volunteers from meeting basic needs to more recovery-based efforts.

“In the initial stages of the storm, we were the only site giving out food and water,” Blackburn said. “But now that Lumberton is no longer cornered off, we need volunteers and churches who can focus on rebuilding homes and helping people get back to their lives, instead of donations and mass feeding.”

Currently, Blackburn has 250 work orders on his desk, awaiting volunteer assistance.

“When I look at those work orders, my heart breaks,” Blackburn said. “Those are real people who need immediate help. And while there are so many sites in need of volunteers, the wide path of destruction in Lumberton makes for a greater need of helping hands, here. I know it’s more dirty and difficult work, yet all of this is for something — to see people come to Christ.”

North American Mission Board Disaster Relief Director Mickey Caison believes volunteers “serve God and their fellow men.”

“Volunteers are used of God to touch lives by reminding those affected that God cares about them,” Caison said. “Suddenly, survivors can hope. They’re able to move forward once they’ve got some help, and they get to encounter Jesus through His hands and feet — volunteers!”

Those interested in volunteering in North Carolina for Hurricane Matthew Relief, including the Lumberton area, Red Springs, Fayetteville, Warsaw, Windsor, Goldsboro, Greenville, Hope Mills and Kinston areas, can visit www.baptistsonmission.org/HurricaneMatthew, and click on the “volunteer now” button.

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers — including chaplains — and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”