Churches step up to provide disaster relief - Word&Way

Churches step up to provide disaster relief

Baptists across Missouri have continued to actively respond to human and spiritual needs in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.

In early September, Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Liberty hosted training for 135 volunteers from 15 congregations interested in chainsaw work, grief counseling and hospitality ministries.

Among those were First Baptist, Platte City; Bethel Baptist, Kansas City; Northern Hills Baptist, Holt; First Baptist, Henrietta; Nashua Baptist, Kansas City; Noland Road Baptist, Independence; Second Baptist, Liberty; Liberty Manor Baptist, Liberty; First Baptist, North Kansas City; and Country Meadows Baptist, Kansas City.

Teams from that volunteer pool were deployed for a week at a time on Sept. 11, 18 and 25 to assist hurricane victims and rescue workers in Baton Rouge, La., which has taken in a lion's share of evacuees.

Pleasant Valley's chainsaw crew was deployed early. "Our first chainsaw crew served Sept. 6-13," said Stacey Hamby, Pleasant Valley's director of communications. "It was the first time our chainsaw crew has been deployed."

When they received North American Mission Board training in the spring, crew members assumed they primarily would be used to clean up debris following tornado touch-downs locally.

The congregation collected 25 tons of relief supplies from Sept. 6 until a pair of donated tractor-trailer rigs set up on the church parking lot departed for a partner church in Baton Rouge on Sept. 10.

"We got to see God do miracles right before our eyes in a week's span," said Lana Heflebower, a former counselor and first-time disaster relief volunteer.

James Streicher, another Pleasant Valley member who is an Air Force chaplain and student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, added: "We had the opportunity to create relationships with evacuees through simple conversation, prayer, providing clothing and other immediate needs they had since many didn't have transportation to get out and secure those things for themselves.

"We spent our time mingling among the 2,000 evacuees at the River Center, offering physical relief and also ministering to their spiritual needs.

"I definitely won't forget the stories of people floating on refrigerators for two days," Streicher said. "Others spoke of about 15 minutes of time between the storm surge and having to clamor to their rooftops to be rescued.

"The interaction I'll never forget is with those who had a clear understanding of what was important in their lives, when they were able to smile even when they had lost everything, all their possessions."

Wyatt Park Baptist Church in St. Joseph completely filled a semi-trailer with water, juice, baby and other items, according to pastor Jimmy Albright. One of the members donated the truck and trailer, and a driver delivered the goods to a Baton Rouge church.

The congregation also sent a team to Gulfport, Miss., to help with supplies and cleanup. They took a trailer with $2,300 in supplies, $600 in cash and chain saws.

Wyatt said four homes have been donated to house evacuees for up to a year, and the church has set up a plan to secure families, help the adults find jobs and assist with the enrollment of children in local schools.

Charleston Association

Charleston Baptist Association opened its camp as evacuees made their way north following Katrina. The Red Cross transformed the camp into a shelter for about 30 people.

Churches, individuals and community groups flooded the facility with donated supplies and foods. Hundreds of people provided volunteer services.

Volunteers from around Missouri have been involved in Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief efforts in McComb, Miss., where Baptists cooked as many as 5,000 meals a day, provided child care and cleared fallen trees and other debris. (10-06-05)