BAREFOOT BAY, Fla. (BP)–Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers from throughout Central Florida descended into Barefoot Bay Aug. 21, site of a tornado spawned by Tropical Storm Fay Aug. 19.
Rain was still falling and debris from 50 damaged mobile homes and tree limbs lay strewn across the Brevard County community, which was one of the areas where Fay dumped up to 30 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, prompting President Bush yesterday to declare a state of emergency for Florida.
Terry Ryan, a coordinator for the Florida Baptist Convention’s disaster relief operation, reported that 29 certified volunteers from four Baptist associations — Brevard, Treasure Coast, Lake and Orange Blossom — assisted at nine of the damaged mobile homes.
The volunteers, dressed in disaster relief yellow and blue windbreakers, worked in the wind and rain to place tarps on roofs, remove aluminum debris and cut up and remove trees and limbs felled by Fay’s strong winds.
Ray Shands, a member of First Baptist Church in Orlando, mounted a stepladder to use his chainsaw to cut down branches from a tree ripped apart by the tornado as it passed across Bill Gallagher’s yard.
“I was lucky this time,” Gallagher said, telling the volunteers it was much worse in 2004 when strong hurricane-force winds damaged his home.
Gallagher already had begun piling up small branches scattered across his yard when one of the Baptist disaster relief teams offered to help.
“I really appreciate it,” Gallagher said. “I can tell they’re good guys already.”
Barefoot Bay, located off of U.S. 1, is the largest manufactured home community in Florida with nearly 5,000 residences. The community also has a privately owned golf course.
“Some people don’t believe that we’re doing this for free,” Ryan said. “They think we’re scamming them.
“You just have to be patient and kind and show them the love of Jesus,” Ryan said.
Shands compared the destruction left in the wake of a tornado to a war zone, with Ryan adding, “It’s just like combat, you don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens.”
Aluminum roofs were peeled back from the mobile homes and carports were lifted away by the winds, one landing four blocks away in one piece.
After a full day, the out-of-town teams rested at First Baptist Church in Melbourne, about 20 miles from Barefoot Bay. They planned to put in another full day of work on Friday, Aug. 22.
After eating dinner prepared by volunteers from Florida’s Orange Blossom Baptist Association, the volunteers prayed together and shared experiences from the day’s work.
Bryan “Gator” Culberson, a team member from The Church at South Lake in Clermont, Fla., told about one lady who just asked for them to pray for her to have patience with her children.
Their offer to help clean up seemed to overwhelm her.
“She was just so moved by it, you could tell, and she kept on saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,'” Culberson recounted. “She couldn’t believe someone was willing to do it for free.”
For Culberson and five other volunteers from The Church at South Lake, it was their first time to respond as disaster relief team members. The church already has a local construction and roofing ministry in place, but Culberson said he is encouraged to be part of a statewide effort.
The Church at South Lake’s team leader, Paul Madison, told the Florida Baptist Witness he just wants to be available to serve where he is needed.
“I’m here doing what God has told me to do,” Madison said.
“Sometimes we serve out of obedience, knowing that we may never get to see the eternal results,” he said. “We’re just here to do what He wants us to do, not because fixing up someone’s house makes us feel good.”
Brevard County Baptist Association director of missions Gary Gates told the Witness that First Baptist Church in Barefoot Bay reportedly has not sustained any damage and, as of Aug. 21, no other churches in the association had reported any damage.
Jessica Tuggle is a correspondent for the Florida Baptist Witness (www.floridabaptistwitness.com), newspaper of the Florida Baptist Convention.