VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (BP)–The elderly man had just recovered from heart surgery, only to face a large fallen tree in his front yard after Hurricane Isabel came through Sept. 18. But it wasn’t long before Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers showed up to help.
“(The man and his wife) were overwhelmed that people from Tennessee would come to Virginia Beach to help them and help others,” said Jim Arterburn of New Tazewell, Tenn. “When we were leaving they began to cry, and it made us cry, and we just had a big old cry party in their front yard. They were praising God that we were there.”
As of Sept. 29, the largest response in the history of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief continued at an aggressive pace in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. A total of 134 units from 22 states have been activated to date, with 83 units currently serving. Those included 23 mobile kitchens, 36 cleanup and recovery units, 17 mobile shower trailers, five communications units, a laundry unit and an assessment unit.
Nearly 700,000 meals had been prepared — most for distribution in partnership with the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Cleanup and recovery units had completed 704 jobs, with 1,554 additional jobs scheduled, and shower units had provided 6,108 showers. Southern Baptist volunteers had contributed 7,365 cumulative days of labor.
The experience in the Virginia Beach yard was one of the many positive responses volunteers continue to see daily.
At Kempsville Road Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, mobile kitchen coordinator Bill Curington of Knoxville, Tenn., told of families in the feeding line expressing their appreciation for the hot meals. One boy told him, “It’s a lot better than what I’ve been getting. I’ve just been getting snacks. I haven’t been getting any food.”
Greg Winters, of Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., led three people to Christ during the first two days of serving on a recovery unit based at Kempsville Road Baptist Church, according to Hilldale Baptist’s Max Holt. As one of the volunteers assigned to help drag branches away, Winters was encouraged to seek opportunities to share Christ with residents. He used the FAITH evangelistic presentation to lead a friend of one resident to Christ the first day and a husband and wife at another home the next.
In Gloucester, Va., Jim Noble, disaster relief director for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia Convention, said their shower trailer has been able to provide several hundred hot showers each day to area residents — often with a long line. It has also been a great opportunity for talking with people about their faith.
“It’s just a real visible ministry,” he said. “We’ve had several 35 to 50-year-old guys say things like, ‘I never thought about my Mama’s church having compassion, but we see compassion here now.’ They’re putting their Mama’s religion together with the shower unit in the parking lot, and they’re trying to figure out how that works.”
The unit also has been able to hand out 100 Bibles to interested individuals.
Several Disaster Relief leaders noted how the storm has pulled people together, with residents eager to help Southern Baptists and other relief workers.
Curington said one area resident volunteered to ride on a Red Cross vehicle to help deliver meals while her teenage son helped for several hours with odd jobs around the mobile kitchen site in Virginia Beach.
And in Gatesville, N.C., volunteer Eddie Williams of Spruce Pine, N.C., said residents there often seemed more interested in helping neighbors than in helping themselves.
“I went to a lot of homes that had a bad situation with trees, and their first comment was, “We’ll be OK. You go help somebody else who needs it more,” he said.
He also noted how, as in other areas, they are joined by area tree specialists and heavy equipment operators willing to donate their time.
“We couldn’t have accomplished what we’ve accomplished without them,” he said. “… I’ve been very impressed with the people. They’ve been very supportive and willing to help wherever they can.”
About 28,000 trained volunteers currently are part of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network nationwide. The units generally are owned and operated by state conventions, local associations and churches, and are coordinated nationally by the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
Contributions to offset direct costs of the response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, Ga., 30022.
For regular updates on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net/dr. A downloadable video and photos depicting the response are available through links at www.namb.net.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: A WELCOME WITNESS.