PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) – As Hurricane Sally’s deluge flooded Alabama and the Florida Panhandle Wednesday (Sept. 16), Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) readied its response. Volunteers in Louisiana, meanwhile, hit milestones as they served survivors of August’s Hurricane Laura, and Southern Baptists continue serving across the nation.
Sally defied forecasts by making landfall later than expected and arriving as a Category 2 storm rather than a Category 1. The slow-moving storm dropped four months’ worth of rain in Pensacola, Fla. – more than 30 inches – in just four hours, according to the city’s fire chief.
Delton Beall, director of SBDR for Florida Baptists, reported Thursday morning (Sept. 17) that search and rescue efforts were still ongoing in the Pensacola area. He and a team were en route to the city to begin setting up their operations.
“I crossed one bridge on Interstate 10 where the water had risen right up to the bottom of the bridge,” Beall said. “Some bit of good news, they think the rivers will hit their crest today or tomorrow and start to decline.”
Florida Baptists are mobilizing to respond, providing cleanup and recovery as well as mass feeding and spiritual care. One kitchen has already been mobilized, Beall said, and he hopes to begin serving meals Friday afternoon.
“Southern Baptists are at their best when they are serving others and sharing the hope of Christ,” said Beall. “That’s the amazing thing about disaster relief ministry. It gives us the opportunity to serve right alongside folks and let them know that God still cares for them.”
Mark Wakefield, Alabama Baptist disaster relief and chaplaincy ministry strategist, told Baptist Press yesterday  that they expect to deploy chainsaw and tree removal teams by this afternoon (Sept. 17) as they continue to assess damage and begin the recovery process.
“We have some strategic and support volunteers that are already on the job, making it possible for actual cutters to be out working tomorrow,” Wakefield said. “We are making preparation to address both the flooding and tree removal.”
Send Relief, Southern Baptists’ compassion ministry, will be sending supplies from its warehouse in Ashland, Ky., once SBDR has been able to assess the needs on the ground.
Hurricane Laura response continues in Louisiana
SBDR volunteers hit milestones this week in their ongoing efforts to help southwest Louisiana and southwest Texas recover following August’s Hurricane Laura. So far, volunteers have collectively served more than 93,700 hours, prepared more than 315,000 meals and serviced more than 1,100 homes that had significant storm damage. Following nearly 1,200 Gospel presentations, 263 people have made professions of faith in Christ.
“Southern Baptists have moved forward despite the hurdles caused by COVID-19,” said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Send Relief. “We are serving communities that have stared down these natural disasters.”
SBDR teams from all across the nation, from Arizona to Virginia, sent teams to respond to the widespread damage wrought by Laura. The Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal for Tennessee Baptists, reported on a team that served Winnfield, La., a town that experienced a Category 2-level storm despite being 125 miles in from the coast.
“This place is absolutely torn up,” Gary Brooks, a Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteer, told the newsjournal. “If you drive down any street, every second or third house has a tree in the middle of it.”
Southern Baptists respond to West Coast fires, sharing Christ across the nation
As fires rage in California, Oregon and Washington, churches have responded to meet the needs of evacuees. Clovis Hills Community Church in Clovis, Calif., collected and distributed supplies, food and gift cards to evacuees of the Creek Fire near Fresno.
Clovis Hills member Lisa Dennis shared a story on the church’s Facebook page of a survivor who came to Christ and started volunteering.
“On Tuesday, we had a family come in, Megan and Clint,” she said. “They thought they lost everything. … Megan told us Clint was not a believer before, but after all this, he is definitely a believer now.”
In a report to SBDR directors, Gary Floyd, SBDR director for the Northwest Baptist Convention, stated that it felt like everything was on fire. A team at Calvary Baptist Church in Brewster, Wash., had been serving meals before the fire got too close, forcing them to shut down.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ohio Baptists deployed a chainsaw team to clear trees downed from the storm, known as derecho, that hit the Midwest in mid-August. After receiving a Bible once the team had finished their work, one homeowner sent a follow-up email that said, “Time for me to read it cover to cover.”
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