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Southern Baptist disaster relief crews busy


ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The deadly tornado that leveled tiny Greensburg, Kan. The forest fires in Florida and Georgia. Serious flooding in New England and New Jersey. Weary Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers all over the United States have been working overtime.

Three weeks after an F-5 tornado killed 12 and obliterated tiny Greensburg, Kan., Southern Baptist disaster relief workers remain on the scene, feeding uprooted townspeople and relief volunteers who’ve been there since May 5.

About 95 percent of the rural town of 1,500 lost their homes, businesses and earthly possessions. If they worked in a bank, office or store on Main Street, they also lost their jobs –- because there no longer is a Main Street in Greensburg.

Since the tornado, citizens of Greensburg –- a tightly knit rural community — have moved in with other family members who live in the general area. As they emerge from their shock, they spend their days gathering up their few remaining personal belongings in plastic containers.

“We came in on May 5, the day after and began feeding in Haviland, a town nearby,” says Bob Mills, state director of missions for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. “I guess we’ve fed about 25,000 meals by now. We also had five chainsaw teams in the area but not in Greensburg, because there was nothing left. All we have now is some heavy equipment bulldozing in Greensburg.”

Mill said recent high winds and rain have hampered the operation of a second feeding unit in Greensburg. In all, some 100 volunteers –- feeding unit workers and chainsaw teams –- have worked the area since the tornado hit. Most volunteers were from Kansas and Nebraska.

Mills and his team are now preparing the way for a mobile chapel, which should arrive in Greensburg in just over a week. A 35-foot by 80-foot double-wide trailer, the mobile chapel is in Wichita being configured for worship.

The chapel –- underwritten by a $65,000 grant from the North American Mission Board -– will seat 100 people. Mills said local citizens have raised another $10,000 for the interior and furnishings.

“It will be wonderful if we can have our first service by July 4, but we hope for sure by the second week in July,” he said.

“One of the neat things that came from the presence of Southern Baptist disaster relief was the awareness that Greensburg needed its first-ever Southern Baptist church. In the past, it had an American Baptist Church, which was destroyed by the tornado.”

Mills said a local farmer has offered a lot on the edge of Greensburg on which to locate the mobile church.

“It will be a church plant and at some point a permanent building will replace the mobile chapel,” Mills said. “Then we will move the mobile chapel to another location where we’ll plant yet another church.

“We need the prayers and support of Southern Baptists for those who lost their properties and have been displaced,” Mills said. “We really don’t need donations of materials because we have no place to store them. But we could, of course, use monetary contributions for the day-to-day living expenses of these folks, to help them get back on their feet.”

Mill said monetary gifts can be sent to the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, 5410 SW 7th St., Topeka, Kan. 66606.

HELPING OUT IN NEW ENGLAND

New England Baptists were called into “mud-out” action recently in the wake of serious area flooding, according to Bruce James, director of evangelism and men’s ministry for the Baptist Convention of New England.

“For about three years in a row, thousands of homes have been affected when local rivers keep overflowing after big rains,” said James, a former pastor from Putnam, Conn., who in 1998 was called into disaster relief. “People have been living with mold and flooded basements for years.

“Our disaster relief organization is coming together, and we have received a lot of outside help but we could use some more help,” James said. While the worst flooding was in New Hampshire and Maine, volunteers came from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, in addition from New Hampshire and Maine.

James said his 20-person team has completed 28 mud-out jobs in New Hampshire and has 18 more to do there, and another 24 jobs in southern Maine.

“New England is a strategic area of this country,” he said. “Over 14 million people live in New England and only two to three percent of them have accepted Christ. We have a tremendous opportunity, need lots of prayer and need to plant more churches in New England. We need more volunteers.

“Anything we can do to connect the church with the community through disaster relief and evangelism projects helps us. We need to get churches out of their buildings and into the community.”

FIRES IN FLORIDA

Fritz Wilson, state director of disaster relief for the Florida Baptist Convention in fire-ravaged Florida, said local churches in the fire-affected areas –- with support from the state convention — have carried most of the load to support some 350 firefighters and other public safety personnel working to control the forest fires near Keystone Heights. That support has included food, shelter and staging facilities.

In all, more than 163,000 acres have burned in more than 225 fires throughout Florida, according to the Florida Baptist Witness. The fires have affected 57 of Florida’s 67 counties.

In Starke, where two separate fires merged to burn over 18,000 acres, Hope Baptist Church has served some 10,000 meals over the last two weeks, and has housed scores of firefighters, Wilson said. While the Keystone Heights fire has been controlled, Wilson said the area continues to be a tinderbox unless significant rain comes.

“We want rain, not a hurricane,” he said.

Because of the scarcity of rain, the Florida Baptist Convention’s Department of Prayer and Personal Awakening called for a day of prayer for rain on Sunday, May 27.

Other Florida Baptist churches to offer food and shelter to firefighters in the state include First Baptist Church in Glen St. Mary, and First Baptist Church in Waldo.
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  • Mickey Noah