HOUMA, La. (BP)–A month after Hurricane Ike made landfall in the early morning hours of Sept. 13 at Galveston, Texas, Southern Baptist churches in coastal Louisiana are sharing the blessings they have received in the storm’s aftermath with their neighbors.
Ike, whose tropical storm force winds extended some 550 miles from its center, was one of the largest Atlantic storms on record. It scattered destruction across much of the Gulf of Mexico coast. And though Louisiana was spared a direct hit, the massive storm pushed a surge of water all across coastal Louisiana, much of which was still reeling from Hurricane Gustav’s strike 12 days earlier.
In Houma and the rest of lower Terrebonne Parish, Ike’s water combined with Gustav’s wind for a devastating one-two punch.
Houma’s Christ Baptist Church, led by pastor Garland Reed, was one of 19 churches — out of a total of 33 in the area — left with extensive damage. Yet Reed is fast to point out that he and his church are concerned with more than just their own recovery. Blessed by others, the church is passing on that blessing by intentionally deploying Baptist volunteers to the surrounding community.
“We’ve been a distribution point for all the missions,” Reed said. “There are some churches that don’t have a voice. Down in the Bayou Dularge and Dulac areas, I have pastor friends that are just devastated. And they’re appreciative of whatever we can give the church.”
Ike made landfall in Texas, but its impact on Lower Terrebonne was devastating nonetheless. According to Terrebonne Parish officials, Ike flooded between 2,500 and 2,700 homes in the area. By comparison, Hurricane Gustav, which almost directly hit the Houma area, flooded some 235 homes.
For Lower Terrebonne residents, two storms in two weeks created many needs — both physical and emotional.
“The list is long and large and the help is needed now, not later,” Reed said. “There are folks in need who really need help and the Lord, especially in the bayou region.”
And early on, help has been coming. Reed says most recovery support has come from individuals and not organizations — and most of the volunteers have a Katrina connection.
“As far as outreach, it’s been a tremendous response,” Reed said. “And it’s been from the individuals that are stepping up and saying, ‘We’re going to help some folks out.’ It’s been people who, just a few years ago, went through what we’re going through right now.”
‘REBUILD MODE AGAIN’
Some of those sympathetic volunteers have been from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Walter Brown was part of a group deployed from Christ Baptist Church that spent a day in Pointe Aux Chenes, a small bayou community near Houma. Whether it was gutting out Live Oak Baptist Church or removing the contents of a house, every member of the team had done similar work — or received a similar blessing from volunteers — after Katrina.
“It’s hard for me not to think about people who came and helped work on our house under similar circumstances,” said Brown, who is a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at the seminary. “I want to do it [volunteer in Houma], but at the same time I’d feel small and cheap if I didn’t do it after all that people have done for us.”
For Reed, the situation is much the same. He and his family were in the process of moving to the seminary from Welsh, La., when Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.
“It seems like, just a few years later, here we are back to rebuilding in my life,” Reed said. “My wife and I have lived in Louisiana for our entire lives. I lost my home in Rita. We basically experienced the entire rebuild of the seminary.
“Then we moved to Houma and we experienced the same thing. We’re in rebuild mode again.”
It’s all part of the been-there-before situation in which many people in coastal Louisiana find themselves.
“They will remember this,” Reed said.
MINISTRY POST-GUSTAV AND IKE
The first time Reed preached at Christ Baptist Church there were only 13 people in worship. That was about two-and-a-half years ago. Then, in July 2007 when the church voted to call Reed as their pastor, there were 35 to 40 in attendance. Reed said there were about 160 people in the service the Sunday before Gustav.
It’s a testimony to the transforming power of the Gospel, Reed said.
“These are the toughest of the tough, the roughest of the rough, that are coming to know Jesus,” he said. “And once they come to know the Lord, they are not at all ashamed of sharing their faith. They are so grateful that [Jesus] saved them from the lifestyle they were in. It’s been awesome.”
New members of Christ Baptist Church range from young adults to 70-year-olds — many of whom had never owned a Bible before.
“We had a three-and-a-half hour business meeting one time, and at the end of it, someone gave their life to Jesus,” Reed said with a smile. “It’s finally sunk in to me that all we’re called to do is to be obedient.”
Whether it’s providing recovery help, distributing food through Angel Food Ministries or just reaching newcomers in the community, Christ Baptist Church and other area churches are having a huge impact on the Lower Terrebonne region. For Reed, it’s a mission field.
“It’s as big a mission field as anywhere in the world,” he said.
The recovery of coastal Louisiana from Gustav and Ike will be months or years in the making. But Reed was clear that now is a crucial time for Christians to help the community get back on its feet.
SOUTHWESTERNERS ALSO ACTIVE
Twenty-three students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary set aside their books and volunteered their time and energy to aid in disaster relief efforts in southeast Texas, Oct. 3-5. The group helped “mud-out” crews tear out flooring, drywall and other items from houses in Bridge City, Texas, which were flooded during Hurricane Ike.
“There’s so many that need the help,” M.Div. student Kresta Cain said. “Sometimes it’s just a husband and a wife or maybe just a single mom. How are they going to get all of it cleaned up by themselves? They really need the help.”
Linda Dupuis, whose house was worked on by the Southwesterners, was grateful for the help. “The things we thought were so dear to us, now they’re out on the front yard,” she said. “Good people like y’all have pulled us through it, and we can’t tell you how much we appreciate it.”
Dupuis and her husband already had paid more than $1,600 to have carpet, furniture and part of the drywall taken out of their home, but they could not afford to continue to pay workers to finish cleaning out the house. Overwhelmed by the thought of completing the work themselves, Dupuis expressed gratitude for the progress the students made, saying, “It was unbelievable what transpired, and how much it lifted us. We can see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”
The group from Southwestern was housed for the weekend by First Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas, the headquarters for Southern Baptist disaster relief in the area. Pastor Terry Wright, a Southwestern alumnus, shared how God was using the efforts to soften those who were previously hardened to the Gospel.
“I believe it is the Lord’s desire for the church and for His people to respond where He’s at work,” Wright said. “Just since the hurricane, we have had close to 30 people saved in the disaster zone.”
Southwestern has committed to making four additional trips to the region before Thanksgiving. During a chapel service, Oct. 9, students gave out of their poverty during an old-fashioned boot offering, using cowboy boots as offering plates, collecting more than $1,800. The money will be used to cover trip-related expenses, with the remainder to be donated to disaster relief efforts in the area.
Michael McCormack is a staff writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary contributed to this report. For more information on volunteering through Christ Baptist Church, contact Garland Reed at email@example.com or 337-853-0834. To view a video of the Southwestern trip, visit www.swbts.edu/ikerelief. A photo gallery has also been created at www.swbts.edu/ikephotos.