Record Midwest flooding in late April and early May damaged multiple Baptist churches — while even more Baptist churches became key centers of aid for their flooded communities. At least eight Baptist churches in Missouri and two in Arkansas were flooded, along with an Arkansas Baptist campground.
Several flood records were broken — including some more than 110 years old — along the Current, Gasconade and Meramec Rivers in Missouri, the Black River in Arkansas, the Illinois River in Oklahoma and other rivers in the region. At least ten people died in floodwaters in Arkansas and Missouri. The flooding also damaged thousands of homes in the region.
First Baptist Church in Van Buren, Mo., saw waters from the nearby Current River rise more than six feet in the building, leaving little more than the steeple and roof peeking up above the muddy waters. The power of the waters rushing through the building destroyed the organ, ripped covers off hymnals and even tossed around the refrigerator. The congregation plans to demolish the structure and rebuild. They are currently holding worship services in their activity center across the street.
“Our building was destroyed, but our church is strong,” said Ron Robinson, pastor of FBC Van Buren. “We’ve been able to reach into our community and help families tear out drywall and insulation for three full weeks. The church has been the church — groups coming to help, pray and provide to families’ needs.”
First Baptist Church in Gasconade, Mo., which suffered flood damage in December of 2015, found itself hit again by even more water from the river that shares its name with the town. Other Missouri churches experiencing flooding included Blackwell Baptist in Desloge, Emmanuel Baptist in Doniphan, First Baptist in Fremont, First Baptist in Perryville, First Baptist in Thomasville and Highland Southern Baptist in Hillsboro.
Elnora Free Will Baptist Church in Arkansas saw more than four-and-a-half feet of water rush into the building and destroy many of the items inside. About two feet of flooding from the Black River hit Shannon Baptist Church in Pocahontas, Ark. Camp Siloam, formerly known as the Arkansas Baptist Assembly, also experienced damage from flash flooding.
Dozens of Baptist churches opened their doors, with some serving as sites for people with flooded homes to sleep, while many more provided meals and supplies to people in need. Missouri Governor Eric Greitens visited First Baptist Church in West Plains, Mo., as he toured relief efforts and visited with emergency responders. Baptist disaster relief volunteers across the region quickly moved to assist. Randy Garrett, director of disaster relief for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, summed up the efforts: “Our volunteers are working diligently to bring help, healing and hope to the flood survivors.