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WMU members help Katrina victims get back on their feet

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Despite having no electricity, water or phone service in their own homes, Girls in Action members from Tylertown Baptist Church, in Tylertown, Miss., were among the first to volunteer to serve food to hurricane evacuees at the church. They also baked cookies in the church’s kitchen for disaster relief volunteers and Entergy Power employees being housed at the church.

“The girls love helping others and giving of themselves,” Carla Stringer, Tylertown Baptist’s GA leader, said. “They are constantly involved in hands-on missions projects in our community through their involvement in GA, so they immediately wanted to help.”

Stringer said her love for missions began as a member of Sunbeams, which is now called Mission Friends, and she is delighted to see that same passion for missions in her daughter and the other girls in her GA group.

“Because of missions education through GA, they are always looking for ways to minister to others and consider others first,” she said. “They realize that we are so blessed because we have a roof over our heads and so many others do not.”

Relief and ministry efforts such as this and more are being replicated by countless WMU organizations in churches throughout the country, as well as through state WMU offices and the national office.

“There is much to be done following such a tragedy,” said Wanda S. Lee, executive director-treasurer of national WMU. “But God’s promises are true…. He is our refuge in times of trouble and He will never leave us to find our way alone.

“With broken hearts over the vast destruction and despair that Hurricane Katrina left in her wake, we continue to pray for all those who are suffering and those who are helping to meet needs,” Lee added. “The foundation of missions — praying, giving, going and telling others of Christ’s love — is exactly what WMU organizations around the country are equipped to do. In the midst of all the chaos is an incredible opportunity for us all to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

Lee said WMU is in close communication with Southern Baptist partners such as the North American Mission Board and state Baptist conventions to maximize and coordinate efforts.

On Sept. 6, the WMU Foundation granted $13,500 through WMU’s HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund, which was established in response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It is intended to provide aid in the name of Christ to those in emergency or disaster situations.

One grant was given to Kay Bennett, a missionary with the North American Mission Board who serves at the Friendship House, a Baptist center in New Orleans.

“I’ll be a better missionary when this is over because I now know what it feels like to be homeless,” Bennett said with a resilient outlook.

After transporting all her clients from the center to shelters in Hattiesburg, she and her staff of two temporarily relocated to Columbia, Miss., where they ministered to hurricane victims in the area by establishing a distribution center for food, water, health kits and other supplies at Magee’s Creek Baptist Church, which is Bennett’s home church. Many of the items were collected and delivered to the church by Kentucky WMU and national WMU.

Another grant was given to Larry Miguez and Linda Middlebrooks, NAMB missionaries who serve at another Baptist center in New Orleans, the Rachel Sims Center. They have temporarily relocated to Port Arthur, Texas, with 22 of the center’s residents and have secured two rental homes for the group to live in as long as needed.

NAMB missionary Ginger Smith at the Gano Baptist Center in Houston also received a grant from WMU. The center is serving as a resource and distribution site for some of the urgent needs of thousands of hurricane evacuees in the area. Items they need are posted on their website at www.bmchouston.org.

Another grant was given to the Louisiana WMU to assist with relief efforts through the Louisiana Baptist Association. Louisiana WMU is focusing on ministering to pastors and their families who need help with food, water, shelter and clothing;

C. Thomas Wright, a director of missions with the Mobile (Ala.) Baptist Association, received a grant to help with food distribution. His association is serving about 10,000 meals a day.

The Birmingham (Ala.) Baptist Association received a grant to assist with a welcome center called CareNet Connection, an initiative of First Baptist Church in Fultondale. Multiple partners in the Birmingham area, including national WMU, are supporting the center, which will provide hurricane evacuees with needs such as food, clothing, shelter, household items, counseling and social services in the coming months.

The money will be used to cover utility hook-up fees and other costs associated with opening the center as quickly as possible. Kristy Carr, WMU’s Volunteer Connection specialist, is providing much of the leadership in the welcome center endeavor. With headquarters in Birmingham, national WMU is a designated collection site for donations for CareNet Connection and will make weekly deliveries.

WMU manages a list of available residences around the country for missionaries when they are on stateside assignment. According to Lee, WMU has identified missionary houses that are vacant and approved to accept families in need of temporary housing. Those who are aware of parsonages, missionary residences or vacant houses that are available for temporary housing may e-mail Linda Peek at [email protected] to be added to the list.

More than $25,000 worth of preschool, children’s and preteen books, as well as MissionsQuest Bibles, are being donated to shelters and other sites as they are identified. In addition, WMU and New Hope Publishers are providing resources and books for encouragement to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary students, faculty and their wives.

Through WMU’s Pure Water, Pure Love, water filters and purification systems will be made available to disaster relief units as soon as they can use them. Currently, people in the affected areas are advised to consume bottled water.

In addition to a collection site for CareNet Connection, national WMU is also a designated collection site for certain items requested by M-Power ministries in Birmingham and the Alabama WMU child care unit if called into service.

A list of needs and ministry opportunities submitted by missions leaders are listed by state on www.directorofmissions.com, one of the many websites maintained by WMU. The site is updated as requests are received.

State WMU offices around the country are highly involved in relief efforts and seeking effective ways to minister to those affected by Hurricane Katrina as well. For example, Donna Swartz, president of Mississippi WMU, is serving as incident commander with disaster relief at Camp Garaway in Clinton, Miss., and Mississippi WMU executive director Kay Cassibry is heading up a feeding unit in Pascagoula, Miss.

National WMU President Kaye Miller, who is also finishing her term as state WMU president in Arkansas, is heavily involved in relief efforts through Arkansas WMU and her church, Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark. They have received 5,000 displaced persons in need of assistance who are being moved to Fort Smith, Ark.
To learn more about ministry opportunities and relief efforts in your state, please contact your state WMU office. For more information regarding relief efforts through WMU’s HEART Fund, please contact David George, WMU Foundation president, toll-free at (877) 482-4483. To make a donation online, visit www.wmufoundation.com. To send a gift by mail, please make checks payable to WMU, and send it to WMU Foundation, HEART Fund-Hurricane Katrina Response, P.O. Box 11346, Birmingham, AL 35202-1346.