By Laura Sikes
DILLON, S.C. — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers came to bring help, healing and hope to Hurricane Florence survivors in Dillon, S.C. and were met with overwhelming support and appreciation from the community and their host First Baptist Church of Dillon.
Dillon county, with a population of about 30,000, has suffered three major disasters from storms in the last four years. Flood waters in 2015 devastated much of the state from Columbia to the coastal areas. Hurricane Mathew hit in 2016 and Hurricane Florence followed in September this year with its heavy, unceasing rains, which caused much flooding that damaged homes and businesses, some for the second time since 2015.
(L-R) Southern Baptists of Texas Convention volunteers Bobby Higgins, of N.W. Hills Baptist of San Antonio, Texas, and Gary Evan of FBC of Onalaska, of Onalaska, Texas, help owner Jasper Greg Rogers of Dillon remove the contents of his flood-damaged home. Waters rose six feet in his home when the Little Pee Dee River crested. Rogers is displaced from his home and lost everything. The four-man mud-out team tore out sheetrock in some rooms up to the ceiling. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.
Through it all, South Carolina Disaster Relief director Randy Creamer said that the community is resilient and commends the church for its response. South Carolina has two other command sites, one at Living Water Baptist in North Myrtle Beach and the third at North Conway Baptist Church in Conway. Many individual churches are also serving.
FBC Dillon responded to the storm immediately, Creamer said, with some of its staff serving with first responders and helping with rescues.
“They have opened the doors of the church with open hearts,” Creamer said. “They don’t mind being disrupted or inconvenienced. They simply want to touch their community and share the gospel by living it out.”
Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), called the church “a great example for the whole nation.”
Mike Felker, an SBDR volunteer from Flint Baptist Church in Flint, Texas, said members of the community have been touched by the service volunteers are providing.
“A lady in a grocery store came up to me and just cried and thanked me for what volunteers are doing, asking me, ‘Can I give you a hug?’” said Felker. “The church has bent over backwards for anything we need.”
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention volunteer Monte Furrh of Boyd Baptist Church in Bonham, Texas, talks with homeowner Jasper Greg Rogers, who attends First Baptist Church Dillon, S. C. Rogers home took on six feet of flood waters from Hurricane Florence. Rogers is displaced from his home and lost everything. The four-man mud-out team tore out sheetrock in some rooms up to the ceiling. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.
FBC Dillon associate pastor Jamie Arnette worked alongside first responders for the first several days after the storm. He said the church started serving the community immediately, and multiple groups, including former members, sent everything from food, supplies, pumps and Blessing Buckets, which were filled with cleaning supplies and a Bible.
“Everyone I’ve come into contact with has been amazing,” Arnette said.
Flood waters rose two feet in the downtown area, but the church did not take on any water. The church did sustained roof damage to a utility building that housed a clothing closet. Members promptly cleared the closet and distributed the clothes from the parking lot. They also delivered meals in the community.
Jean Norris, a 30-year member of the church, said that it is hard to see all the devastation and especially the people who were hit twice. “We try to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” she said. “And Pastor Jamie has been trying to teach us how to be disciples.”
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer David Carver of Cedar Grove Baptist of Cerro Gordo, N.C. shares a devotion with volunteers serving from South Carolina and Texas at First Baptist Church Dillon, S.C.. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.
Norris and a few other women of the church help take care of Arnette’s wife, Kathy, who has Huntington’s Disease and needs around the clock care. The women take shifts and stay with Kathy for three days a week. They have helped the Arnette’s for the last eight years.
Norris said it is a joy to be with Kathy and feels blessed to be able to do it.
“Looking back,” Arnette said, “God has used the church to minister to us in inexpressible ways.”
Associate Pastor Jamie Arnette and his wife, Kathy, have served at First Baptist Church Dillon, S.C., for 12 years. Arnette says, “God has used the church to minister to us in inexpressible ways.” The church has been on the front lines serving its community in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and hosting Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.
Senior Pastor Dickie Cullum, who has led the church for 23 years, will retire this fall.
“The Lord is really using the disaster relief ministry,” he said. “We’ve been twice blessed to be the recipients of the amazing response and the love and the grace of the volunteers. We can’t adequately express our appreciation. This has been such a blessing.”
A South Carolina mud-out team received two separate donations from homeowners totaling $5,500 given to The Pee Dee Baptist Association. The team leader said the owners were thankful for the volunteers’ work on their flooded-out homes.
As of October 2, Southern Baptists have reported serving over 1 million meals to survivors of Hurricane Florence and seen more than 80 professions of faith. SBDR teams have helped more than one thousand homeowners through mudding out homes, cleaning up yards and providing temporary roofing.
Eighty-year-old Cluey Wallin of Dillon, S.C. (pictured on left) and his wife, Maxine, were away at a family reunion when their home took on four feet of flood water from the heavy rains from Hurricane Florence. They lost most of the contents of their home. Cluey is living in a friend’s motor home and Maxine is with relatives in Ohio. SBDR filled 3 dumpsters of his home’s belongings and pulled up damaged flooring and drywall. Cluey prizes his Bible, given to him by the volunteer team who signed it for him. “They are a great bunch of people. If I were able to, I’d go work with them. If I ever make a donation to an organization when I get my feet on the ground, it will be to them.” He asks for prayer not only for himself but for everyone who is in this situation. Associate Pastor Jamie Arnette of First Baptist Church Dillon is at right. NAMB photo by Laura Sikes.
As the response continues, Randy Creamer says more trained mud-out crews are needed for the long-term. Donations to local Baptist associations and to the South Carolina DR ministry are appreciated. Gift cards are accepted also.
Visit namb.net/Florence to connect with state disaster relief teams.
Laura Sikes is a freelance writer with the North American Mission Board.