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Southern Baptists continue Idalia response

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (right) visited Southern Baptist volunteers as he toured the damage in Valdosta, Ga., on Friday, September 1. Jay Watkins, the Send Relief’s Valdosta Ministry Center Director (second from left), showed the governor their setup. Send Relief photo

PERRY, Fla. (BP) — Pastor Steven Ruff rode out the winds and rain of Hurricane Idalia in his office at First Baptist Church as 100 mph winds toppled trees outside.

“It was worrisome at times,” said Ruff, whose wife was with her parents in Savannah. “You’d look out and see trees falling across the campus. Some of our larger trees on the other side of the parking lot fell from the sustained winds.”

Send Relief set up a temporary distribution center at First Baptist Church in Perry, Fla., to support the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response to Hurricane Idalia. Send Relief photo

A semi-truck from Send Relief sits in First Baptist’s parking lot, having traveled from the Send Relief Ministry Center in Ashland, Ky. to deliver water, food, rolled roofing, mold remediation and other supplies for the stricken area as well as others impacted by Idalia.

“Send Relief has sent resources and continues to support Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and Georgia as we seek to bring help and the hope of Christ to survivors of Hurricane Idalia,” said Coy Webb, Crisis Response Director for Send Relief. “We responded quickly to come alongside these partners and continue to work with them to help with longer term recovery efforts.”

As of Wednesday morning, Sept. 6, SBDR volunteers had prepared more than 51,000 meals, assessed the damage on hundreds of properties, completed responses to 142 homes and presented the Gospel 209 times, according to a statement.

Food distribution is likely to wrap up by the end of this week, but recovery work will last for several more as SBDR volunteers install rolled roofing on damaged homes and clear downed trees and debris.

“It’s been great seeing Southern Baptists coming together to serve in our community,” said Jay Watkins, Valdosta, Ga. Send Relief Ministry Center director. “They’ve been making a huge difference here.

“Our city has truly come together to help one another, and we’ve had the opportunity to feed thousands of people in Lowndes County. We were also honored to have Gov. Brian Kemp visit and share about all the ways our state leaders are working to support those who were impacted by the hurricane.”

The wind damage he observed reminded Ruff of Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that ravaged sections of the Florida panhandle and South Georgia in October 2018. 

“We were called out to help after that storm and it was eerily similar,” said Ruff, a chaplain with Florida Baptist Disaster Relief.

Perry is about 20 miles inland. Ruff heard the storm surge at the beach was 6 to 8 feet.

By Sunday, Sept. 3, First Baptist still had members making their way back to town. That, plus the fact that power hadn’t been completely reinstalled on campus, led to worship services being canceled. Normal service times will resume this Sunday, the pastor said.

Now having stood on both sides of the Disaster Relief experience, Ruff has a newfound appreciation for the work.

“I’ve watched these volunteers come in from around, giving up their time, taking vacation days, setting aside their lives to being here and helping people they don’t know recover from storm and tragedy, serving selflessly,”’ he said.

“It’s amazing to see them putting others first and serving Christ in that way.”