Besides the mammoth Southern Baptist disaster relief response mounted in Louisiana and Texas after Hurricane Ike, several Baptist state conventions also have deployed volunteers in their own backyards — even as far inland as Ohio.
"It was the perfect storm here in the Cincinnati area," said Dennis Holmes, associational missionary for the Baptist Association of Greater Cincinnati. "When the remnants of Hurricane Ike met up with a cold front, it was the perfect condition. It was worse than any ice storm."
Holmes said winds spiked at 84 mph, felling trees by the dozens and knocking power out for more than 1 million people — 800,000 of them in Cincinnati alone.
"Most of the wind came through Cincinnati, Columbus, Lebanon, and into the Dayton area," said Duane Floro, ministry evangelism strategist for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.
Floro said disaster relief chainsaw teams were activated east of Cincinnati and, because recovery was not complete, two chainsaw units in Ohio were still working. In addition to local needs, Ohio Baptists also deployed feeding and shower units to Louisiana and later to Texas. In all, the state convention has more than five hundred trained disaster relief volunteers.
Although heavy rain was not a factor in Ohio, it was in Illinois, where most of the state, including Chicago, saw rainfall of seven to nine inches. The Illinois River reached near-record flood levels at Utica, Illinois, according to Jack Shelby, disaster relief director for the Illinois Baptist State Association in Springfield.
"There was heavy, sustained wind of 65 mph in southern Illinois and widespread tree damage in Massac County," Shelby said. Massac, Jackson, Johnson, and Union Counties in southern Illinois were hit particularly hard. "We had about sixty chainsaw guys and gals working in the southern part of the state."
After Ike struck the Galveston-Houston area on September 13, Shelby mobilized Illinois feeding, shower, communications, chaplains, and chainsaw crews to Texas. Four chainsaw units were sent to Louisiana when Hurricane Gustav hit there on September 1.
"We anticipate having to send mud-out crews — when they return from Texas — to areas along the Illinois River," said Shelby, who himself served in an incident command center at Fort Worth, Texas.
An Illinois Baptist feeding unit returned home from Cold Springs, Texas, the week of September 22, but the personnel who staffed it were redeployed to Galveston, where they helped run a new feeding operation on Galveston Island. Despite having to respond to Ike's damage back home, the Illinois team prepared more than ten thousand meals and did one hundred chainsaw jobs while in Texas.
Coy Webb, associate men's ministry director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention in Louisville, said straight-line winds as high as 80 mph raked across Kentucky from west to east.
"Our chainsaw crews, thirty-five to fifty people, first responded in Fulton, Kentucky, partnering with disaster relief volunteers from Tennessee along the border," Webb said. Then they followed Ike's path through Livermore, Louisville, and into Bracken County and Alcorn in eastern Kentucky, Webb said.
While Kentucky Baptists were tackling downed trees in their state, others from the state convention were operating feeding units in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, and Beaumont and Angleton, Texas, near Galveston. Other Kentucky Disaster Relief volunteers were flown directly to Baytown, Texas, to work in the "mega" feeding operation there.
For the second time in only three months, southern Indiana was again hit hard by major storms. Back in June, many towns in southern Indiana were inundated by historic flooding. Homeowners were just finishing repairs from the June floods when Ike stormed through.
In Louisiana and Texas, Southern Baptist disaster relief teams chalked up 40,000 volunteer days; completed 3,800 mud-out, chainsaw, roofing and repair jobs; and recorded about 19,000 ministry contacts, including 845 Gospel presentations and 171 professions of faith, from August 30 through October 14. SBC disaster relief feeding kitchens also had prepared 4.8 million hot meals for hurricane victims and volunteers.
Helping Texas Churches
Dozens of Southern Baptist churches whose buildings were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Ike in Texas will benefit from relief initiatives launched by both the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), each offering opportunities for churches to partner with sister churches heavily impacted by the storm.
Twenty BGCT member churches had buildings totally destroyed and more than 100 church buildings were damaged by Hurricane Ike. Eleven SBTC church buildings sustained major damage and are unable to hold services due to flooding or structural damage; twelve churches recorded "medium" or "minimal" damage.
Terry Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Vidor, Texas, has taken on the role of coordinating the joint response to the devastated churches.
"Some churches can't meet so there are no weekly offerings. There's no money for payroll or to pay the mortgages they're carrying," said Wright. "They are in dire straits."
For information on the SBTC initiative, go to: www.sbtexas.com/minister_church_relations/AdoptaChurch.htm
For information on the BGCT initiative, go to: www.bgct.org/texasbaptists/Page.aspx?pid=4187
To donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry efforts, call toll-free (866)407-6262 or visit www.namb.net.
Mickey Noah is a member of First Redeemer Church in Cummings, Georgia, and is a staff writer with the SBC North American Mission Board.