In midst of Florence desperation, Southern Baptists bringing hope

By Brandon Elrod

Lumberton, N.C.—Cars stretched out of the parking lot of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, N.C. and down Highway 211 as residents waited in line to receive hot meals in a make-shift drive thru set up by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) in the church’s parking lot.

Volunteers with the North Carolina Baptists on Mission (NCBM), who comprise North Carolina’s SBDR team, along with volunteers from churches in town, cooked and distributed meals to residents, many of whom lost everything during Hurricane Florence.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers prepare meals alongside volunteers from local churches in Lumberton, N.C., following Hurricane Florence. SBDR set up a mobile kitchen in the parking lot of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton. Several of the volunteers were still displaced from their homes following the storm and still took time to serve their community. Photo by Brandon Elrod

Even some of the volunteers, like Hyde Park member Donna DiChiara, endured severe damage to their homes.

“This storm, my whole yard was…worse than a swimming pool, it looked like the river,” DiChiara said. “Underneath my house, it was flooded to the sub-flooring. Then all of my air conditioning is out, plus the duct work is down, full of water.”

Jeff Blackburn, the lead pastor of Hyde Park, could gauge the severity of the storm by comparing his congregants’ reactions to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, saying that he saw concern on their faces in 2016 but “desperation in their eyes” following Hurricane Florence.

“We have had serious flooding all over the community. At least half of our congregation is displaced, trying to find a place to live,” Blackburn said. “They’ve lost their houses, many of them for the second time” as they did in 2016.

A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team with the North Carolina Baptists on Mission delivers hot meals to a resident of Lumberton, N.C., following Hurricane Florence. The team, set up a kitchen in the parking lot of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, cooked and distributed meals following the storm. Photo by Brandon Elrod

Blackburn surmised that at least 200 volunteers from Hyde Park and other churches were serving and that at least a third of those volunteers were now homeless or living with family.

“What’s amazing is that even when their lives are upside down, they’re still out there serving, which says a lot about their compassion and commitment to this community,” Blackburn said.

Flooding made it difficult for food and supplies to get into Lumberton, creating a lot of anxiety in the community. The North Carolina SBDR team served food to those who could drive up and packed meals into American Red Cross vehicles that delivered meals to nearby shelters.

The National Guard used high water vehicles to deliver supplies and SBDR-prepared hot meals through the flood waters.

Sam Porter (left gold shirt) and Robert Mabry (right blue cap) look on as National Guard members unload a high-water vehicle they used to distribute food and supplies to Lumberton, N.C., residents. Porter is national director of disaster relief with the North American Mission Board, and Mabry is a volunteer disaster relief leader with the North Carolina Baptist Men. Photo by Brandon Elrod

Blackburn praised the NCBM for helping his church serve its neighbors. “I’m glad that [NBCM] are here and that we have a shared vision together to see Jesus transform the hearts and lives of people in this community.”

SBDR teams with Missouri Baptists set up their kitchens and equipment in Wallace, N.C. Gaylon Moss recently became Missouri’s disaster relief director after serving with NCBM.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to come back,” Moss said. “North Carolina is doing a good job coordinating and organizing. We appreciate the opportunity to be here and help serve.”

One of Moss’s team leaders, Wesley Hammond, spoke about how every disaster relief effort takes cooperation across each level of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Hammond, who is pastor of First Baptist Church in Paris, Missouri, described how Bethel Baptist Church in Berea, Ky., housed his team for a night during their long drive from the “show me state.”

Bethel Baptist built a facility designed to house disaster relief volunteers, and the church’s hospitality blessed Hammond and his team so that they could show up in Wallace ready to work.

“As we’ve come in to North Carolina, the church here, Poston Baptist Church, was already trying to do the ministry in the community themselves,” Hammond said. “As they were ministering to the community, we were able to come in, and they saw us as the group of people who were there to lift them up and help carry the burden.”

As SBDR teams from throughout the United States arrive, they work with different organizations, local leaders and churches to serve those in need.

“As we’ve engaged…we’ve seen God expand what we’re trying to accomplish by involving the people of the community: the mayor, chief of police, the National Guard, the American Red Cross,” said Hammond. “All of us are working together to minister to the needs of the people here.”

Left to right, Sam Porter, Mark Wakefield, David Melber and David Hendon. Porter, national disaster relief director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and David Melber, president of NAMB’s compassion ministry called Send Relief, pray with Mark Wakefield, the disaster relief and chaplaincy ministries strategist for Alabama Baptists, and Alabama SBDR volunteer David Hendon. Alabama Baptist Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams set up their site in Hope Mills N.C., to respond to Hurricane Florence. Photo by Brandon Elrod

An SBDR team from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions set up their site at Southview Baptist Church in Hope Mills, N.C. As they awaited food to begin preparing meals, a few of their volunteers ventured out into the surrounding neighborhoods to begin recovery efforts at peoples’ homes.

A team from Tennessee set up their kitchens at First Baptist Church in Kinston, N.C. and prepared meals for the community. A team from Kentucky began feeding out of Catalyst Church in Jacksonville, N.C. on Wednesday night.

A North Carolina SBDR team has been serving meals from First Baptist Wilmington, N.C., despite the city essentially becoming an island as roads in and out were flooded. Efforts continue at Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, N.C., where President Donald Trump visited Wednesday.

Teams from Mississippi and Florida will also be participating in the feeding and recover efforts.

As of Wednesday evening, SBDR teams across North and South Carolina had served more than 118,000 meals. Around 20 chainsaw jobs or yard cleanup have been completed. SBDR will accelerate its recovery efforts in the coming days and weeks as many homes still remain flooded.

To donate funds or otherwise get involved in Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, visit

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published September 20, 2018