LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (ABP) – With response to massive needs to April 29 tornadoes in the South still getting up to speed, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s loosely coordinated network of disaster-relief ministry turns attention this week to the worst flooding alongside the Mississippi River in decades.
“We are very concerned about the flooding,” Charles Ray, U.S. disaster-response coordinator for the Atlanta-based CBF, said May 9. Based at Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas offices in Little Rock, Ray has monitored flooding across the state for more than a week. On Monday morning Interstate 40 remained closed between Little Rock and Memphis.
At the same time, Ray said, he was still mobilizing tornado responses in five states. A team from Arkansas planned to leave Tuesday for Mississippi at the request of state officials for debris removal. He said CBF groups were also “very active” in Alabama.
“As for the floods, we will have to decide which areas to pull out of with storm relief and shift to water damage,” Ray said. “Since CBF is not a first responder, we will be as prepared as possible to respond to areas as soon as the water recedes and assist those with the greatest needs and least resources.”
Unlike large Baptist state conventions with specialized units like mobile kitchens that are coordinated through the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, CBF is not set up as a first responder on a large scale.
Rather than trying to do it all, CBF looks for areas that are being neglected and then focuses its resources for long-term aid. “We may not be the first ones there, but we like to be the last ones to leave,” said Mike Young, missions coordinator for Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship .
CBF churches in Tennessee collected items for tornado relief Sunday, May 8. On Monday Young rented a truck to pick up supplies in Memphis, Nashville, Murfreesboro and Tullahoma before delivering them to Cullman, Ala.
Tennessee CBF Field Coordinator Terry Maples said several CBF congregations are involved in direct ministry to disaster victims, but Fellowship leaders decided on short notice to issue an appeal for churches looking for tangible ways to help.
“We heard the Cullman food bank was completely out of food,” he said. “That is what captured our attention.”
In addition to helping in Alabama, Maples said there are needs in Tennessee, too. Thomas Quisenberry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, for example, reported needs in his community including bottled water; non-perishable food items — including some without sugar for diabetics — diapers and travel-size toiletries.
Maples said he has already heard from churches asking how to respond to floods around Memphis, where officials warned owners of more than 3,000 properties they could be damaged by the highest river crest in 74 years. More then 1,300 homes received notices suggesting evacuation. Officials believe water levels will remain high for two weeks.
“We know there is going to be long-term need, and we’re going to partner with our three strongest churches over there,” Maples said.
Alabama CBF, which coordinated immediate response after a week of tornado-spawning thunderstorms caused damage in seven states estimated between $3.7 billion and $5.5 billion in property losses, asked May 5 that donations be limited to items that are specifically requested.
“Our goal is to try to monitor this in such a way that we do not create stress for folks on the ground with an overload of supplies and storage needs,” Alabama CBF Coordinator Ronnie Brewer said on the organization’s website.
He urged CBF supporters to “keep in mind the marathon” image as efforts turn from immediate needs to long-term response.
First Baptist Church in Williams, Ala., near Jacksonville, opened its doors as a FEMA distribution point and Red Cross feeding center after tornadoes devastated several homes in the neighboring Webster’s Chapel area. The church collected and distributed food and clothing, helped neighbors with cleanup needs and provided child care, along with assistance with housing and laundry. On Monday, May 9, First Baptist Church offered free haircuts to storm victims.
At present, the Williams church is accepting only cash and gift cards, because they are out of storage space.
In addition to First Baptist Church in Williams, Alabama CBF is gearing up for three other long-term recovery partnerships in Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. The newest, announced May 4, is being led by Locust Grove Baptist Church in Huntsville, which identified a “forgotten community” in a rural area.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.