By Natalie Sarrett

17 dead.

More than 100 Southern Baptist churches devastated.

Power outages throughout the state.

With Hurricane Laura’s 150-mph winds and 12-foot storm surge, Louisiana suffered the strongest hurricane it has endured since 1865.

Since the storm made landfall two weeks ago, Send Relief and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have been tirelessly working to serve survivors by preparing meals, providing laundry sites and distributing water, face masks and temporary roofing supplies. Through these projects, there have been over 650 gospel presentations, more than 700 Bibles distributed and nearly 170 new professions of faith.

But churches in the region are still in desperate need of help.

That’s where Louisiana Baptists are stepping into the gap to advocate for their congregations through a program called Churches Helping Churches.

Based on a similar initiative after the Baton Rouge floods, the program encourages one-on-one relationships between church bodies in which a congregation adopts one of the parishes most impacted by Hurricane Laura. The partnerships are based off of the financial capacity, size and focus areas of the adopting congregation, who are then matched with a complementary church. These pairings are often two- to three-year commitments to come alongside hurting communities as they.

“Individual churches can often act more quickly and effectively than larger companies, and our main goal is to see how we can funnel as many churches as possible into sharing ministry opportunities at their back door,” says Discipleship strategist for the Louisiana Baptists, Sean Keith. “It has become clear that one-on-one relationships are both the biggest encouragement and the best way to fill needs.”

Many pastors in the impact zone are overwhelmed and without power, making communicating and organizing clean-up efforts on their own even more difficult. Even worse, these pastors’ homes were also significantly affected, so some were left both without a workplace and a home. There are still many churches with gaping holes in the ceilings and trees splayed through windows, but these clean-up projects are so large that having a single church body commit to praying for the community and tackling odd jobs one-by-one is incredibly helpful.

“Pastors are exhausted and in need of emotional, physical, and economic support,” says Director of Missions, John Hebert. “The relief effort is well-organized and very effective, but the needs go beyond what we can do. We can help, but the real connection needs to be church-to-church.”

“The hardest thing about this storm is that this all happened on top of a pandemic, which heightened the issues we are facing,” adds Keith. “Everyone was already dealing with spiritual and emotional issues following the coronavirus, and frustrations are running high now that there is also a lack of power and water. Care for pastors is pivotal right now—knowing they’re not alone does wonders.”

Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptists, Dr. Steve Horn, also commented, “On the heels of COVID, this is a critical situation. Most of our churches’ giving has moved to online formats, but there’s limited electricity and internet so we are seeing many churches go weeks without revenue, on top of an inability to gather in community. These churches are in basic survival mode, with many families depending on food and water distributions, and the only way we are going to survive the magnitude of this situation is with churches from non-affected regions of our country helping us in the long-term.”

Getting to step into difficult situations on behalf of brothers and sisters in Christ is a powerful experience, and many partnering congregations have said that it has meant just as much to them as it has to those receiving aid. Whether it be laying tarps for temporary roofing or cutting up fallen trees, the goal of disaster response teams is to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

If your church is willing and able to help in the recovery of Southern Baptist churches across Louisiana, go to louisianabaptists.org/churches-helping-churches to get connected with a congregation in need today.