‘Lake Charles grit’ tested by two hurricanes in weeks

LAKE CHARLES, La. (BP) – Trinity Baptist Church Senior Pastor Steve James calls it “Lake Charles grit,” an ability to persevere during hardship on top of hardship. “Grit up” is the local rallying cry after Hurricanes Laura and Delta hit western Louisiana just weeks apart.

“We had one hand tied behind our back, and now somebody blindsided us,” James said Monday (Oct. 12) category Hurricane Delta, a Category 2 storm, hit Louisiana’s western Gulf coast, compounding damage wrought six weeks earlier by Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm.

Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers planned to prepare 3,500 meals for distribution Monday (Oct. 12) at The Bayou Church in Lafayette, La., to serve those impacted by Hurricane Delta. Photo submitted to Baptist Press.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and Send Relief, the Southern Baptist compassion ministry, are coordinating responses from several state disaster relief teams. In coordination with Southern Baptist partners, local churches and associations, they are repairing homes, clearing debris, serving meals and sharing the Gospel.

While numbers vary, SBDR has reported more than 400 salvation decisions since Laura’s cleanup began, with more than 300 of those taking place through the site at Trinity.

One death has been attributed to Hurricane Delta, an 86-year-old man in St. Martin Parish who died while refueling a generator in his shed, Louisiana officials said Sunday.

Local churches are helping others while repairing their own campuses.

“It’s kind of like round two,” James said. “But in Lake Charles, … you look at people and say, ‘Grit up.’ So, they’re very resilient.”

Laura caused $3.5 million worth of damage at Trinity, James said, but the church has housed numerous disaster relief teams and served as a hub for first responders over the six weeks since Laura made landfall. Individual members have volunteered for disaster relief while working to repair their own homes.

Delta’s damage was not as severe, James said, but the smaller storm caused more flooding because debris from Laura hampered drainage. Delta tore off blue tarps placed on homes after Laura and caused other structural damage. Electrical power is being restored more quickly than after Laura, but Trinity remains without internet and landline phone service. DR workers are still on site at Trinity and are assessing damage to determine their next response, James said.

The Bayou Church in Lafayette committed to host a Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief feeding unit in its Ministry Center, but instead is hosting volunteers in its main building after Delta damaged the center beyond use. Missouri volunteers will prepare 3,500 meals Monday at the church for distribution, Bayou Church Senior Pastor Seth Walker said.

The Ministry Center at The Bayou Church in Lafayette suffered significant wind damage when Hurricane Delta struck coastal Louisiana Friday (Oct. 9) and followed a path inland similar to Hurricane Laura in late August. Photo submitted to Baptist Press

The ministry center “is uninhabitable at the moment,” Walker said Monday. The building had only reopened Oct. 4 for onsite activities since the COVID-19 pandemic. “Now we have to shut it back down for weeks, maybe months. We’re assessing the damage right now – it’s pretty significant – and then we’ve got to figure out our next step.”

The Bayou Church continues to send volunteers to Lake Charles to help homeowners rebuild there, Walker said, and perhaps 10 families are hosting Lake Charles residents displaced by Laura.

SBDR teams already onsite moved farther east to escape Delta and returned after the storm to continue working.

Sam Porter, NAMB’s national director for SBDR, said disaster relief teams continue to respond.

“Even though we are now in week seven of responding to these back-to-back storms, we still have hundreds of volunteers who are willing to come and bring hope to people who desperately need it,” Porter said. “We are truly blessed by that, and I’m thankful for how SBDR and Send Relief are working together to support the efforts to meet needs and share the Gospel with those who have endured these disasters.”

A Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) disaster relief team will work with Salvation Army volunteers to prepare and distribute meals from a site in Lake Charles, Porter said, and expects to prepare 5,000 meals Monday.

In other coordinated responses, the Louisiana Baptist Message reported Saturday (Oct. 10) that North Carolina Baptist Men will establish an incident command center at First Baptist Church in Lafayette.

Based on information from Louisiana Baptist Convention disaster relief strategist Edward “Gibbie” McMillan, the Baptist Message said the Arkansas Baptist Convention will continue to operate an incident command center at Trinity, the SBTC will send a team to Philadelphia Baptist Church in Alexandria. A team from the Mississippi Baptist Convention was on standby Saturday.

Teams are adapting well after Delta’s interruption, said Coy Webb, Send Relief’s crisis response director. Webb assisted in delivering more than 15,000 meals from Send Relief to serve hurricane survivors and disaster relief volunteers.

Teams are adapting well after Delta’s interruption, said Coy Webb, Send Relief’s crisis response director. Webb assisted in delivering more than 15,000 meals from Send Relief to serve hurricane survivors and disaster relief volunteers. Photo by Coy Webb

“Everything is going well. Teams are on the ground and beginning to respond. Teams that left are coming back in,” Webb said. “There will be more flood work from Hurricane Delta than there was from Laura, and a lot of roofs that had been tarped will now need to be redone.”

Since Hurricane Laura, SBDR has prepared more than 415,000 meals including more than 265,000 at Trinity, completed more than 1,780 chainsaw jobs and provided temporary roofing for nearly 190 homes.

Disaster relief responses are expected to continue at least into November, pastors said.

Both James and Walker said they are thankful damage from Delta was not worse.

“Overall,” Walker said, “We were definitely spared. It could have been much worse.”

North American Mission Board public relations specialist Brandon Elrod contributed to this report.

Published October 14, 2020