ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP) — Bring someone who can speak Spanish.
That was a key facet of a request to the Baptist Convention of New Mexico to deploy a mud-out team to the Rio Grande Valley after Hurricane Patricia’s remnants inundated a town of 35,000 people in late October.
On the disaster relief team: Gloria Maestas of High Rolls, N.M.
The eight New Mexico volunteers deployed Nov. 7 to Weslaco, Texas, where more than 80 percent of the residents speak Spanish.
The team called 12 days into their two-week deployment to report the results of their work. They had removed sheetrock from eight homes; cleaned three homes with a commercial sanitizing agent; completed two emergency roofing jobs and one siding job.
But “the main reason for the call,” reported Ira Shelton, disaster relief director for the New Mexico convention, “was to report 55 professions of faith.” The spiritual response to the team’s conversations with residents was unprecedented, he said.
While God uses the work of the entire team to create opportunities for conversations, “in the process of talking with homeowners, God got hold of Gloria,” Shelton recounted. She led in 54 of the 55 decisions to follow Jesus. The team’s leader, Larry Schmidt of Ruidoso, N.M., led the other person to Christ.
The uniqueness of the team’s outreach, Shelton said, extended beyond the large number of decisions: Maestas has been struggling with cancer.
“I really wasn’t sure about sending her,” Shelton said. But “God motivated Gloria and took control over her and led her to people. It’s strictly a ‘God thing.'”
Reflecting the New Mexico team’s care for people alongside their disaster relief efforts, follow-up was a concern since the volunteers soon would be leaving. Shelton contacted Terry Henderson, state disaster relief director with Texas Baptist Men, to discuss follow-up needs.
The team provided complete contact information on the new converts — names, addresses and phone numbers — for use by Weslaco-area churches, the local Baptist association and the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ river ministry.
The organizations are “stepping up to reach out to the new converts to make sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle,” Shelton said. When he spoke with the Baptist New Mexican newsjournal, he had just gotten off the phone with Henderson. After the two talked, Shelton noted Henderson’s response: “No way is that going to happen,” meaning he would ensure follow-up succeeded.
Texas Baptist Men DR coordinators were “blown away” with the amount of work the team accomplished and the decisions for Christ, Shelton said. “It was a phenomenally good deployment for us.” TBM has requested a team return on Nov. 30 because 70 other Weslaco homes still need assistance.
In Hurricane Patricia’s onslaught in the Rio Grande region, though not covered on national news, Weslaco and other communities sustained nearly 10 inches of rain, by one newspaper’s account. Sewers were overwhelmed, and flash warnings progressed to evacuations and serious flooding as the rainfall continued, Shelton said. Compounding the problems were people trying to drive through the floodwater, with large trucks creating sizeable waves that pushed floodwater further into homes. The Red Cross opened shelters, and the city evacuated residents from the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
Once floodwater recedes, Shelton said the danger may pass but residents face the rigors of recovery. Many homes, vehicles and possessions are damaged and must be discarded or replaced. Sometimes, building materials inside homes must be removed. Mold can grow quickly inside soaked walls and underneath waterlogged flooring, he said. Many residents are unable to adequately address the demands of flood recovery. They need help. All of this was the case in Weslaco, Shelton said.