Month: October 2005

SBTC crews served half-million meals following Katrina, Rita




Through mid-October, 519 disaster relief volunteers from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches had been deployed in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The volunteers?not including those working in the Houston Astrodome and Convention Center following Katrina?provided 562,205 meals to rescue and relief workers and evacuees in Louisiana and Texas, said SBTC Missions Director Robby Partain.

Nationally, Southern Baptists served an estimated 7.3 million meals in the Gulf Coast states following the hurricanes, Baptist Press reported.

Additionally, SBTC chainsaw crews completed 187 jobs in hurricane-damaged areas and SBTC chaplains counseled with at least 140 hurricane victims, Partain reported.

“Katrina and Rita have been the most challenging events we have participated in, and our Disaster Relief personnel have performed wonderfully,” Partain said.

Feeding operations in Port Arthur and elsewhere have ceased as electricity and residents began returning, but “we’re possibly looking at another two months of chainsaw and debris removal,” he said.

Additionally, SBTC mud-out recovery units may be used where water and mud damaged structures, Partain said.

SBTC staffer takes Hurricane recovery special assignment




SBTC Missions Services Associate Gibbie McMillan has been placed on special assignment with hurricane recovery.

McMillan, who has directed disaster relief efforts for the SBTC, will handle the assessment of needs and disbursement of donations to the affected areas. More than $1 million has been donated for disaster relief through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. McMillan will be working in nine recovery areas:

?Financial assistance for associate pastors and church staff;

?Church loan information through the North American Mission Board;

? “Adopt a Church” efforts to help damaged churches recovery;

?Insurance and annuity information through GuideStone;

?Liaison for “Adopt a Church” with the Louisiana Baptist Convention;

?Networking through pastors/churches in affected areas;

?SBTC assistance in New Orleans Seminary recovery;

?Working with associations in their recovery efforts;

?Working with SBTC evangelism team in providing evangelism resources to churches in the affected areas.

Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, commended the work of McMillan by saying, “Because of Gibbie, SBTC was able to make a powerful and quick response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Now, we are calling upon him again to lead in the rebuilding effort as the SBTC representative to those affected.”

McMillan may be reached at hurricanerecovery@sbtexas.com or toll free at 1-877-953-7282.

ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN?

As the Nov. 8 election nears, supporters of a state constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage in Texas are not assuming victory.

“Last week we spoke to a group of retired teachers, who were a pretty savvy group,” state Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), the amendment’s author, told the TEXAN. “Some of them didn’t know there was an election, much less anything about the significance of Proposition 2 being (on the ballot). I’m afraid at this point we don’t have the word out adequately.”

Chisum filed the amendment in the Texas House before the 2005 session and the Senate last May voted 21-8 to place Proposition 2 before voters along with eight other proposed amendments. Eighteen Senate Republicans and three Democrats supported the measure.

Proposition 2 reads: “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Traditionally, off-year referendum elections draw less than 10 percent of registered voters, which Chisum said could help homosexual marriage supporters. “The fear I have is that is that the other side of this issue is highly motivated to defeat this,” Chisum said.

Attorney Hiram Sasser of the conservative Free Market Foundation based in Plano, an affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization, has been helping inform pastors of their legal rights regarding non-partisan political activity.

The Free Market Foundation has assisted pro-amendment groups such as the Texas Restoration Project, led by Houston pastor Laurence White, the Texas Marriage Alliance, Not On My Watch campaign, led by Southern Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic, and For This Cause, a group of East Texas pastors.

Meanwhile, the Austin-based “No Nonsense Campaign” is leading opposition to Proposition 2, with help from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and a long list of Texas supporters, including the Log Cabin Republicans, a GOP homosexual group, and the Democratic Party of Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties in North Texas.

“I talked to somebody at church just last Sunday. I asked them what they thought about it and they didn’t know there was a vote going on,” Sasser said. “We’ve got a long ways to go to make everybody informed that there’s going to be a vote Nov. 8 to decide whether or not God’s definition of marriage will stand in Texas or whether we are going to allow same-sex marriages.”

Free Market Foundation President Kelly Shackelford, with counsel from civil liberties attorney Jay Sekulow, helped Chisum add language to the amendment that prohibits legal recognition of civil unions, Chisum told the TEXAN.

As Proposition 2 supporters have attempted to rally Christian pastors to support the amendment, opponents have charged among other things that the amendment’s language would invalidate common law marriages and some Texas cities’ domestic partner benefits.

Glen Maxey of the No Nonsense Campaign, the only openly homosexual legislator when he served in the Texas House, told the alternative news weekly the Austin Chronicle: “Texas is absolutely the best positioned state to win this election. ? And if we win, it will change for all time the gay and lesbian movement. It will change the national debate.”

In a phone interview, Maxey told the TEXAN that because Texas already has a defense of marriage law on the books, “Nothing really changes (if Prop 2 passes) except the unintended consequences that will come out of the second half of the amendment designed to prevent civil unions.”

The Free Market Foundation’s Sasser said Maxey’s charge is a groundless attempt to shift the debate. “One of the findings (of the Texas legislature) is that this will have no effect on domestic partner arrangements,” Sasser said. “And the common law charge is a red herring. It’s a smokescreen for the real issue, which is whether or not we are going to have same-sex marriages. Common law marriage is going to be totally unaffected by this.”

Chisum said if large religious groups such as Baptists and Catholics vote Nov. 8, Proposition 2 will pass overwhelmingly.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the TEXAN in September: “Our Christian values have come under assault by the secular culture for almost 40 years. The current battlefront is same-sex marriage. Texans have an opportunity to speak loudly for the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

The Catholic Bishops of Texas released a statement Sept. 29 supporting Proposition 2.

“Marriage did not originate from either the Church or state, but from God. Therefore, we believe neither Church nor state has the right to alter the nature and structure of marriage. What God has joined together let no one put asunder,” the statement reads.

Chisum said his motivation in introducing the amendment was the potential societal damage if traditional marriage is undermined by alternative definitions. He cited a case in the Netherlands, where last month a man and two bisexual women were joined in a civil union, the Brussels Journal reported.

“That’s just an indication of the deterioration,” he said.

The Free Market Foundation has voter guides available at freemarket.org.

“We wrote the voter guides in a way that’s objective: it gives you the pros and cons of both sides,” Sasser said. “And we did it that way so churches could feel comfortable passing these out to all members of the congregation and not worry about any issues with 501c3.”

 

Cornerstone in Rio Grande Valley flourishing

MCALLEN, Texas?During its two-year existence, Cornerstone Church in McAllen has started two other churches, grown tremendously in attendance, and reached out to countless people of various ethnic groups.

“God has been working in this congregation over the past two years in amazing ways?ways that are only by his hand,” pastor Loui Canchola said.

Located in the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen has a population of around 110,000. While Canchola is training his church to reach out to all in the city, they are making great strides in bringing a wide diversity of people together in their own community.

Several years ago Canchola, an athlete and faithful Houston Texans and Texas Longhorns fan, was coaching athletics at a local school. In 1997, God called him out of coaching and into full-time ministry. He moved quickly over the next few years, serving in a church as a student minister from 1998-2001 and later as an associate pastor.

It wasn’t long before Canchola felt God calling him to start a new church in the McAllen area, also his hometown.

“It was a burden God placed on my heart to reach out to the unchurched in the valley,” he said. With the blessings and support of three churches in McAllen?Valley Fellowship, First Baptist, and Baptist Temple?the Canchola family and several others began meeting as Cornerstone Church in McAllen in September 2003.

“We launched in a 1,200-foot storefront space that we outgrew in a month,” Canchola said. “We then moved to a hotel banquet room and outgrew that in six months. We currently lease and meet in a 9,000-square-foot industrial facility that we’ve added 3,000 square-feet to. This has totally been a God-thing.”

In the meanwhile, “We’ve helped start Fellowship Community Church in San Antonio and International Center of Joy in Rio Grande City.”

Canchola said the biggest concern of Cornerstone is to build the church?the kingdom of God. Cornerstone Church proudly proclaims Matthew 6:33 as its foundational verse.

“We’re focused on building this body of believers and we know that God will construct the building in his time,” Canchola said.

“Loui Canchola is one of the most enthusiastic, generous, creative, and fun to be around planters in Texas,” said Terry Coy, SBTC senior church planting associate. “God is using him mightily not only to grow Cornerstone, but to plant other new churches, coach new planters, and lead the way in assisting the SBTC in developing church planting in the Valley. I am grateful for his attitude, his passion for the lost, his love for Christ.”

On the Cornerstone website, the “About Us” link reads: “We are a church for those who are ‘still kicking the tires’ and checking things out, for those who may have become disillusioned and have written church off, and for those who are looking for a place to connect and serve.”

The majority of the new members at Cornerstone were unchurched before attending.

Made up of 60-70 percent English-speaking Hispanics and 30-40 percent Anglos, Cornerstone is averaging 225 people each Sunday and has grown to two services. In 2004, they baptized 27 and so far this year they have baptized 35.

“God is moving in amazing ways,” Canchola said. “We’ve seen lives transformed, marriages restored, and many people come to Christ.”

One couple, Rey and Sandy Chavez, wrote this note to the pastor: “Cornerstone has had such an awesome impact in our lives. ? I am still amazed with all the people at Cornerstone Church. I have never had friends that are so generous and non-judgmental. Everyone has accepted us with open arms. We had never experienced this with our own family and friends. It is wonderful to know that ? the battle we fight daily, we do not fight alone.”

After two years, Cornerstone is starting a new initiative this fall to help newcomers and new believers get connected to the church’s ministry. “We’re launching a foundations class. It’s for those who are saying, ‘I’ve been saved. I’ve been baptized. What do I do next?’ There is a huge need for it at this point in our church’s life.”

Seven years, and counting

At the beginning of our convention, the editor of another Baptist newspaper said the formation of a new convention in Texas was “a waste of time, money, and effort,” and closed his comments by indicating Satan’s likely pleasure in SBTC’s inaugural meeting. After seven years, 300 new churches, and increase to more than 1,700 affiliated churches, I’d have to say time has proved him wrong.

 

It’s hard to blame him for doubting the success of the new enterprise, though. The odds were against the new convention for several reasons. Protest groups have a hard time gaining critical mass for doing something positive. The attitude required to advocate a minority viewpoint in a large organization is often too aggressive to draw less confrontational pastors. Also, it is challenging to transition from dissent to status quo. Those marginalized in their former convention now were leading a new one of their own. Often the pressure leads to new fractures and still more groups. Brother Editor also predicted further divisions, by the way. There are additionally public relations challenges, financial challenges and relational challenges that follow the birth of a new convention in a rancorous environment. And yet, here we are.

 

SBTC’s continued existence must be either because of God’s blessing or because of his promise to work even bad things for good, according to his purpose. I think it is the former, but then again I would.

 

There have been too many opportunities for God to merely withhold his hand and cause the new convention to wither. There have also been many (who also think God is on “their side”) who worked pretty hard to snuff us out. Random chance, impetuousness, and deferred judgment just can’t explain the growth, ministry, and effectiveness that have come to characterize the work our churches have jointly done in Texas.

 

I think we’re free to celebrate a little, then. God has given us several gifts through which he has enabled and prospered this work.

 

First, I’d have to say our leadership has been the greatest gift. Jim Richards has the vision and the leadership gifts to bring a small, struggling, and fractious protest group into a position to do credible ministry among Texas churches and to lead the Southern Baptist Convention in CP support from a state convention. Dr. Richards’ vision allows us to give a percentage to ministry beyond Texas that other state conventions could not touch without starting over.

 

Related to this is our confessional nature. SBTC is rare if not unique among Southern Baptist denominational bodies in this regard. We have clearly defined ourselves and given churches a distinct choice as they decide how they will participate in cooperative ministries in Texas. This clarity has drawn even churches that formerly looked askance at Southern Baptists in general. Doctrinally and practically, we are a known quantity on essential and timely issues.

 

Yet our confession is not so tightly drawn as to divide fellowship over clearly debatable issues. In fact, a couple of churches have withdrawn because we are not more specific on matters such as eschatology or the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. Confessionalism is also a point where our convention is showing the rest of our denomination the way. Eventually, what we formerly knew as healthy diversity in the SBC will become a threatening pluralism that paralyzes the mission we share as Southern Baptists.

 

The essentially conservative instincts of Southern Baptists in Texas have also been crucial to the maturing of our convention in such a short period. Most of these Texans are inerrantists. They believe the plain meaning of the Bible to be the truth in no vague or nuanced sense. They believe God to be all knowing and all powerful. Baptists in Texas believe marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that this is worth standing for. We also believe that the “mental health of the mother” is an idea too prone to misuse as a rationalization for abortion. The plain spoken values of SBTC resonate with the biblical beliefs of most Texas Southern Baptists.

 

After asking Muslim family ‘Do you know Jesus?’ Disaster Relief volunteer leads them to Christ

LA PLACE, La.?The 53-year-old Southlake woman had one gospel tract left to share with a family lined up to receive food from the SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers working in Kenner, La., near New Orleans.

“As a car pulled up, we’d say, ‘Hi, how are you? Do you want some lunch?'”

When asked “How are you doing?” some of the displaced Louisianans shared how Hurricane Katrina had left them destitute and hungry. After awhile, the looks on their faces seemed similar to Charmaine Fenstermacher as she sought to offer encouragement while passing out food.

“I had three tracts left and I was using them sparingly,” she remembered, aware that many of the residents had already heard the gospel shared over the course of the week during food distribution efforts. “Some of them wanted to talk and it was so nice to hear what they had to say.” Most of the people Fenstermacher met were poor and their stories began running together as they described similar circumstances of coping with the disaster.

When the black sedan rolled to the front of the line, Fenstermacher recognized the family to be of Middle Eastern descent.

“The mother was wearing a beautiful silk gown with gold threads. It was covering her arms as she reached out for food. She told me they had lost everything in the hurricane.”

Weeks later, Fenstermacher is still amazed by the words God gave to her.

“I reached in and handed them lunch and we talked a little since there was a long line ahead of me. It surprised me the things I asked because I’m not normally so bold.

“Do you know Jesus?” she asked the man, his wife and their teenage son, uncertain of the response she’d get.

“The husband spoke for the family and said, ‘We have been Muslim.’ I thought that was an odd way to put it?it was not ‘we are Muslim.'”

She described the man’s gratitude for the food and resources freely given to him and his neighbors in the days following the hurricane. “‘Our own people did not help us,'” she remembered him saying.

As Fenstermacher offered a tract and a brief gospel testimony, she recounted the man’s response: “‘You know, we have heard that from other people. Who is this Jesus?'” she heard him ask.

“I thought, ‘Is this really happening to me? I hope I can explain this,'” Fenstermacher recalled. “It was not me at all. The Holy Spirit took over and I just basically explained what salvation is?that you speak out and repent and are sorry for your sins. I told them God loved us so much that he gave us his Son who died for each and every one of us and that the neatest thing is the resurrection.”

To Fenstermacher the entire conversation seemed to have lasted forever, but she realized it was only a minute or two that she had to spend with the family.

“He didn’t say anything for awhile and so I asked, ‘Would you like to say a prayer of salvation?'” The mother shook her head positively, the husband answered, “Yes,” as did the son, she recalled.

Fenstermacher reached into the car to hold their hands as she led them in prayer. “Then the husband said, ‘We want to do that!’ and I said, ‘You just did.'”

Even though her disaster relief training advised against close physical contact with evacuees, Fenstermacher said only her legs were left hanging out of the car as she reached in to hug her new friends.

“I’ve always planted seeds, but I had never been there beside a person who made a decision to follow Christ. It finally happened to me,” she announced, appreciative of the many Christians who had gone before her, sharing God’s love with this family. “It was awesome that I was the one witnessing this and God did his work through me.”

First baptism marks beginning of SBC effort to win and baptize one million in one year

KIRBYVILLE, Texas?For John Britt, church had been something he had sometimes attended?but for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, bouts with alcohol and a destructive lifestyle kept him from surrendering fully to Christ, he said.

His wife, Lynn Britt, a member of First Baptist Church of Kirbyville, Texas, helped him find a church that he said truly cared.

At 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1, Britt made his repentance public through believer’s baptism at the hands of the church’s pastor, Charles Z. Burchett. His baptism is the first recorded baptism of the church year for Southern Baptists, who have been challenged by SBC President Bobby Welch to witness to, win and baptize one million people.

Over the past year and a half, Britt said he has “found a church that really cared about me and they took me in. I started realizing that it’s time to do the right thing and start living for God.”

“I’ve tried to go to church in the past, but I’d always done it for the wrong reasons ? I found a church and they have showed me the right way and it’s been a blessing with this church,” Britt said. “They’ve shown me the right way and they took me in. I took that first step and I’m not turning back.”

Britt has been busy at the church helping serve victims of Hurricane Rita.

“We’re not turning anybody away. If they need something, we’re going to give it to them. That’s what God put us here to do, and we’re gonna do it,” Britt said.

Small church does big thing in Rita relief

CENTER, Texas?For more than a week after Hurricane Rita approached the Texas Gulf Coast, Hillcrest Baptist Church in the small East Texas town of Center had been home to nearly 200 evacuees, many of whom had special physical needs.

Inside the dimly-lit church auditorium, several children were sprawled out on the carpet near the altar, working on a jigsaw puzzle. Their grandmother, a diabetes sufferer, rested in a pew at the back of the auditorium. Another person slept on a mattress between the pews and worship center entrance.

Two days before Hurricane Rita hit, the Red Cross had designated the church, about 30 miles south of Marshall near the Louisiana border, as a special needs shelter for Shelby County, the church’s pastor, Gordon Vaughn, said. Soon, about 75-80 evacuees arrived in three buses from the Texas Gulf Coast.

Others?citizens who fled the storm and spotted the church along State Highway 59 as they drove north?found shelter also.

“We started with about 225 (evacuees) ? with absolutely no medical facilities or team or anything,” Vaughn told the TEXAN Sept. 29 as he stood in the parking lot of the church amid a whirlwind of activity.

A handful of officers from the United States Health Service (USHS) were there, interviewing evacuees to assess their medical needs.

The church averages about 130 on Sunday mornings, Vaughn said. A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding unit from Ohio that was working at the First Baptist Church of Center provided one meal a day, Vaughn said.

More provision came from the community and church members, who helped provide food and identified local medical providers. Several of the evacuees with restaurant experience helped man the church kitchen.

“The Lord blessed us with several folks who are caterers,” Vaughn said. “If it hadn’t have been for them, we’d have been stuck.

“One of the major problems is getting medical attention and medication for people. We thank the Lord we didn’t lose any patients.”

The evacuees included nine babies, Vaughn said. Several evacuees had adult onset diabetes, three people were on breathing machines, two were heart bypass patients, two were on kidney dialysis and another was a cancer sufferer who had fled Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and was evacuated again from the Texas gulf for Rita, Vaughn stated.

“It’s been a learning experience.”

One man, a 21-year-old with Down syndrome, eagerly donned an orange security vest as many in the group gathered outside between the church auditorium and the fellowship hall to talk with USHS officials.

Despite the urgency of relief work, “We haven’t missed a church service,” Vaughn noted. “We have a devotion time every morning. It’s optional, not everybody attends. But we’ve had at least five professions of faith that I know of ? people who have been saved because of the ministry.”

One of them, a woman from Beaumont who arrived in Center with her teenage daughter, told the TEXAN the Lord had been calling her for a long time but she had been running.

During her week at the church, she sensed the Lord asking her to provide what she termed a “children’s church” for the kids there. With construction paper and some craft supplies, the kids made pictures they proudly displayed.

SBTC crews, churches were crucial help as Rita knocked out power, water

KIRBYVILLE, Texas?Fifty miles north of Beaumont, Texas, members of First Baptist Church of Kirbyville were busy passing out water and ice to fellow townspeople who were all in the same predicament: No electricity and no water.

“We’re living ‘old school,'” said Robert Fuller, a member of FBC, two days after Hurricane Rita swept across the Texas Gulf Coast and a huge swath of deep East Texas, snapping towering Southern pines like toothpicks and altering life in dozens of communities for what looked like weeks to come.

More than a week later, much of the area was still without electricity?save for a few generators. Some residents had power restored, but others?customers of a rural electric cooperative that had its infrastructure and equipment destroyed?still lacked electricity.

Thankfully, said Fuller’s wife, Esther, running water?albeit cold?was restored late in the week after Rita struck.

“We got water two days ago. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven,” Esther Fuller said. “I’d been living without water. To have water is just a blessing. Little things like that?you just don’t realize how important they are and how unimportant other things are.”

More important, no one from Kirbyville died in the storm, she added.

“That is just such a huge thing for me. Yeah, we’ve had some people’s homes severely damaged. Actually, we had more stories where trees are down all around it but the house is fine.”

On the coast, portions of Port Arthur were getting electricity restored by Oct. 4, said Bill Davenport, SBTC state director of Disaster Relief.

Meanwhile, FBC Kirbyville, like many churches in inland rural areas, continued to be central relief points for distributing food, water and ice to residents.

Late in the afternoon Sept. 30, a line of cars and trucks waited in an alley drive next to FBC Kirbyville as firefighters from California and community members unloaded supplies from FEMA, such as plastic tarps to cover damaged roofs, and distributed boxed dinners and bags of ice to citizens.

A line of approximately two dozen cars were lined up to buy gasoline at a Wal-Mart near Silsbee, Texas, about 40 miles north of Port Arthur.

Davenport said the relief effort for Rita could last for 90 days in some areas because of chainsaw work and mud-out recovery. The SBTC has mud-out recovery units that can restore water- and mud-damaged structures.

Through Oct. 4, SBTC Disaster Relief units had prepared an estimated 30,400 meals for Texans affected by Rita. But as electricity is restored, SBTC feeding units will go home, he said.

In the week after the storm, SBTC feeding units were operating in Port Arthur, Vidor and Splendora, Davenport said, and SBTC chainsaw units were working in Jasper County and in Port Arthur.

FROM THE GULF TO TYLER

Towns such as Jasper, Kirbyville, Silsbee and Woodville, in deep Southeast Texas, and Orange and Mauriceville closer to the Gulf, were hard hit by Hurricane Rita’s winds.

Damage was reported as far away as Tyler, Texas, nearly 220 miles north of the Gulf Coast and on the western edge of the storm.

Winds from Rita tore a large portion of a stucco façade from the four-year-old worship center at Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler, which had to cancel services the next day because church officials were concerned about the building’s safety, said Pastor Dale Perry.

“It tore the west gables off completely and exposed all of the roof and air conditioning duct work and steelwork,” Perry said. “We were really fortunate that we did not have water damage. When Rita passed by, it was strongest from north to south. On the west side of the building it just peeled off like a banana.”

Friendly Baptist previously had voted to postpone a planned building note campaign to financially assist Katrina victims.

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Welch: So. Baptist relief different because it’s given in Jesus’ name

PORT ARTHUR, Texas?”Lord, bless every piece of bread, every bowl of beans, every sandwich, every bottle of water given in the name of Jesus,” Bobby Welch prayed as he huddled with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.

The theme was familiar among the Baptist “yellow shirt” volunteers who’ve been around Welch since hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast states: Baptists giving out bottled water, sandwiches and beanie-weanies are giving holy gifts because they are given in Jesus’ name.

The Southern Baptist Convention president and Daytona Beach, Fla., pastor joined Morris Chapman, SBC Executive Committee president and chief executive officer, and three members of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention staff in touring Rita-ravaged Southeast Texas.

The group made eight stops during a 10-hour trek across a geographic area that spanned from Port Arthur as far north as Jasper, 70 miles from the coast.

Coastal areas and a large swath of rural Southeast Texas have been without electricity for more than a week due to Rita’s toll on power lines and equipment. Estimates given on local radio stations were that some regions could be without electricity for a month or longer.

At a K-Mart parking lot near Port Arthur, Welch, Chapman, the SBTC’s Deron Biles and Texas Baptist Builders consultant Steve Carr greeted local pastors and SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers, introducing themselves and encouraging the volunteers with prayer and words of thanks.

One displaced man who had passed through the food line in Port Arthur asked Welch to sign a devotional Bible for a friend who has AIDS. Welch wrote a note as SBTC Disaster Relief State Director Bill Davenport and another volunteer listened to the man’s story.

Dustin Guidry, pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church in Port Arthur, which housed several dozen SBTC Disaster Relief workers in its gym, told Welch and Chapman his church suffered some wind and water damage, but the church’s school is his biggest concern.

“We’ve got 130 kids that attend the school,” Guidry said. “Hopefully, a week after everybody gets back in to Port Arthur we can have classes again.”

Like most Texas Gulf Coast residents, Guidry and his wife are staying with family temporarily.

“Our staff is all over. We’ve got one in Dallas, one in Lubbock.”

Up the road in Silsbee, about 40 miles north of Port Arthur, the group stopped at Woodrow Baptist Church, home to a small, pastorless congregation, none of whom were found at the church.

But the open doors hinted that air was being circulated to hasten drying out a facility that suffered wind and rain damage inside and out. The podium and choir loft was filled with cabinets, desks, office supplies and Sunday School materials. The red carpet was littered with scattered leaves and other debris. A crimson worship banner hung proudly over the choir loft.

Welch wrote a note on a large sheet of paper, each member of the group signed it, and he left it in the auditorium for someone to find.

“This is the Southern Baptist Convention ? right here,” Welch said as he and Chapman stood near the altar of the approximately 20-by-60-foot auditorium that was lit only by the sunlight from the open west door and several small windows.

The group left another note at Genesis Baptist Church, near Buna, Texas, where damage included a sheared-off steeple.

In nearby Kirbyville, Texas, an evening thanksgiving rally featuring Welch drew about 100 people from the community on the grounds of the First Baptist Church, which has helped feed and distribute ice to 1,000-1,500 people a day from the town and from outlying areas.

Preaching from the bed of a pick-up truck near the church, Welch opened 1 Corinthians 15 and spoke of God’s love despite dire circumstances, using a storm-battered doll he found along the Mississippi coast as an object lesson for disasters.

The doll, Welch explained, had a tear just below one knee and what appeared to be a receipt and part of the New Testament matted to its hair.

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