COTTONDALE, Ala.—As Don White from Mount Pleasant sawed limbs off one side of a tree felled by tornadoes, Bil Barkley trimmed branches on the other side. In a matter of minutes, the tree was cut up and ready for another member of the Texas Baptist Men disaster relief team to clear from the area.
Removing downed trees was the task at hand, but lifting people’s spirits was the goal for the Harmony-Pittsburg Baptist Association chainsaw team, one of nine Texas Baptist Men relief teams serving in northern Alabama.
“We hope we’re going to lift the community by letting them know there’s somebody who cares,” said Ben Moberly, a member of First Baptist Church in Canyon Lake, who leads the chainsaw team working out of First Baptist Church in New Braunfels.
Barkley, minister of education and senior adults at First Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, said chainsaw teams seek “to simply be the presence of Christ—to be here and offer hope to people who are in a hopeless situation and by giving this physical help—helping people do things they can’t do themselves in their hour of need. Representing Christ, we can be here, share Christ with them and give help.”
The chainsaw teams removed fallen trees homeowners could not budge on their own. Using rigging apparatuses, team members climbed in trees to remove large broken limbs and on roofs where trees had fallen. Then volunteers removed the pieces either by hand or with a small front-end loader.
In the early days of serving in Alabama, volunteers encountered people still coming to terms with the reality of the damage the tornadoes inflicted. After the Harmony-Pittsburg team cut two trees off the roof of a mobile home, two teenage boys who lived there broke down with tears of gratitude. A homeowner who lost most of the roof off his home called the chainsaw team of First Baptist Church in Canyon Lake “six angels sent by God.”
The teams asked to pray with every family they served and offered family members a Bible and gospel tracts. Often, one person from a team visited extensively with the people the team helped, getting to know them and serving as someone who would listen to what they were experiencing.
When possible, the team shared the gospel. Within the first couple of days on the field, the Harmony-Pittsburg team led two people to faith in Christ.
“Any time you come and you do something for free and we have fun doing it and we pass that joy on, people begin to want to know what gives you that joy and why would you travel 600 miles to help somebody,” said Dwaine Higgins, pastor of Bar Nun Cowboy Ministries in Omaha, east of Mount Pleasant.
The Texans are one piece of a larger Southern Baptist disaster relief effort that includes feeding, chainsaw, clean-out and shower units from South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. TBM sent three assessment, one shower and five chainsaw teams to Alabama.
“We appreciate every effort from every Southern Baptist disaster relief person to come in here,” said Vernon Lee, who coordinates Alabama’s disaster relief efforts. “We couldn’t make it without them.”
More than half the state was affected by at least 20 tornadoes that left wide, harsh gashes in cities large and small, Lee said. The official number of people killed by the storms is 250 in Alabama alone.
Southern Baptist disaster relief teams have prepared more than 43,800 meals following the tornadoes. They also completed more than 200 chainsaw projects. And they have shared God’s love through word and deed.
“As disaster relief people, we know people need to be fed physically, but they need to be fed spiritually as well,” Lee said.
In the coming weeks, the relief effort will shift into a recovery and eventually a rebuilding effort, he said. Alabama officials are beginning to put together plans that would enable Texas congregations to partner with Alabama Baptist churches in rebuilding their facilities as well as reaching out into the community. Lee encouraged congregations interested in such partnerships to contact Marla Bearden at the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board at (888) 244-9400.
To support Texas Baptist Men’s disaster relief ministry financially, visit www.texasbaptistmen.org.