Southern Baptists respond to Hurricane Sally, serve disaster survivors coast-to-coast

By Brandon Elrod and Daryn Sinclair

PENSACOLA, Fla.—As Hurricane Sally’s deluge flooded Alabama and the Florida Panhandle on September 16, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) readied its response teams. Volunteers in Louisiana, meanwhile, hit milestones as they served survivors of August’s Hurricane Laura, and Southern Baptists continue serving across the nation.

Sally defied forecasts by making landfall later than expected and arriving as a Category 2 storm rather than a Category 1. The slow-moving storm dropped four-months’-worth of rain in Pensacola, Florida—more than 30 inches—in just four hours, according to the city’s fire chief.

A group of volunteers with Missouri Baptists Southern Baptist Disaster Relief help to chainsaw trees and clear storm debris left after Hurricane Laura rampaged across Louisiana. Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief photo.

Delton Beall, director of SBDR for Florida Baptists, reported on September 17 that search and rescue efforts were still ongoing in the Pensacola area. He and a team were on their way to the city to begin setting up their operations.

“I crossed one bridge on Interstate 10 where the water had risen right up to the bottom of the bridge,” Beall said.

Florida Baptists are responding to the needs of impacted communities, providing cleanup and recovery, mass feeding and spiritual care. One kitchen located at Hillcrest Baptist Church is fully operational, and according to Beall, volunteers have fed approximately 15,200 survivors as of September 21.

“Southern Baptists are at their best when they are serving others and sharing the hope of Christ,” said Beall. “That’s the amazing thing about disaster relief ministry. It gives us the opportunity to serve right alongside folks and let them know that God still cares for them.”

Mark Wakefield, Alabama Baptist disaster relief and chaplaincy ministry strategist, reported that Alabama Baptists are deploying chainsaw, debris removal and temporary roofing teams from Dauphin Way Baptist Church, First Baptist Church Robertsdale and First Baptist Church Gulf Shores.

“This is a developing situation,” Mark told The Alabama Baptist. “The leadership will be constantly evaluating and adjusting the plan. I am grateful for all the encouragement and support that has been offered.”

Send Relief missionary Kay Bennet traveled from New Orleans to deliver nearly 6,000 meals to churches in the Mobile area on September 18. These meals will help feed SBDR volunteers as they continue recovery efforts in Mobile.

Hurricane Laura response continues in Louisiana

SBDR volunteers hit milestones this week in their ongoing efforts to help southwest Louisiana and southwest Texas recover following August’s Hurricane Laura. As of September 21st, volunteers have collectively served more than 119,700 hours, prepared more than 361,000 meals and serviced more than 1,300 homes that had significant storm damage. Following more than 1,300 gospel presentations, 285 people have made professions of faith in Christ.

Leadership from Olive Baptist Church use Send Relief rolled roofing supplies to temporarily fix the damage to their church brought on by Hurricane Sally. Shaun Pillay photo.

“Southern Baptists have moved forward despite the hurdles caused by COVID-19,” said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR with the North American Mission Board and Send Relief. “We are serving communities that have stared down these natural disasters.”

SBDR teams from Arizona to Virginia sent teams to respond to the widespread damage wrought by Laura. The Baptist and Reflector, news journal for Tennessee Baptists, reported on a team that served Winnfield, Louisiana, a town that experienced a Category 2-level storm despite being 125 miles in from the coast.

“This place is absolutely torn up,” Gary Brooks, a Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteer, told the paper. “If you drive down any street, every second or third house has a tree in the middle of it.”

Southern Baptists respond to West Coast fires, sharing Christ across the nation

As fires rage in California, Oregon and Washington, churches have responded to meet the needs of evacuees. Clovis Hills Community Church in Clovis, California, collected and distributed supplies, food and gift cards to evacuees of the Creek Fire near Fresno.

Clovis Hills member Lisa Dennis shared a story on the church’s Facebook page of a survivor who came to Christ and started volunteering.

“We had a family come in, Megan and Clint,” she said. “They thought they lost everything…Megan told us Clint was not a believer before, but after all this, he is definitely a believer now.”

In a report to SBDR directors, Gary Floyd, SBDR director for the Northwest Baptist Convention, stated that it felt like everything was on fire. A team at Calvary Baptist Church in Brewster, Washington, had been serving meals before the fire got too close, forcing them to shut down.

A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team from the Northwest Baptist Convention served meals out of Calvary Baptist Church in Brewster, Wash., to evacuees from a wildfire before the fire got too close, forcing them to shut down. Northwest Baptist Disaster Relief photo.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ohio Baptists deployed a chainsaw team to clear trees downed from the storm, known as derecho, that hit the Midwest in mid-August. After receiving a Bible once the team had finished their work, one homeowner sent a follow up email that stated, “Time for me to read it cover to cover.”

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published September 25, 2020