HAMMOND, La. Battling mosquitoes, poison ivy and the lack of electrical power, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief volunteers endured sweltering temperatures and soaring humidity to assist survivors of Hurricane Ida, which struck Louisiana on Sunday, Aug. 29, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina blasted ashore.
Crews continue to serve, even though Hurricane Nicholas made landfall as a category 1 storm at 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 14, southwest of Sargent Beach, Texas, and moved toward Louisiana.
The SBTC’s response to Katrina, led by the late Gibbie McMillan, the convention’s first director of disaster relief who died of COVID this August, marked the inaugural major deployment of SBTC DR.
SBTC DR crews continued building on McMillan’s legacy as they again traveled quickly to Louisiana, where they were joined by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from across the country.
Even as Ida still raged, a four-person SBTC DR incident management left Texas for Alexandria, La., where they established operations from Aug. 30-Sept. 12 to help coordinate SBDR activities across the Bayou State. A feeding team staffing the mass feeding unit from the Unity Baptist Association was soon joined by another mass feeding team and unit from First Baptist Pflugerville in Gonzales, La. New volunteers have rotated in to relieve the original crews.
To date, the feeding teams have produced more than 190,000 hot meals distributed by the Salvation Army to survivors.
West Monroe, Hammond and six other sites
Other SBTC DR workers have since joined hundreds of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to help Louisiana in a deployment with what Scottie Stice, current SBTC DR director, called, “many moving parts.”
Shirley and Cliff Spencer of Spring set up the SBTC DR shower and laundry unit from the Bowie Baptist Association on Sept. 2 in West Monroe, where they began doing laundry for survivors at a shelter there, work that is ongoing. Other SBTC DR shower / laundry units deployed to Gonzales and Denham Springs, La. to serve both feeding teams, power line crews and recovery units. Some of the shower / laundry units will demobilize by Sept. 17.
A quick response kitchen deployed to Denham Springs to feed DR volunteers. A second QRU set up operations in Kenner, La.
An SBTC DR utility support unit deployed to Houma to assist Alabama Baptist DR feeding efforts there, and a recovery team will work under the direction of Oklahoma DR in Morgan City, La., beginning Sept. 19.
SBTC DR recovery units also arrived, rotating in and out over ensuing weeks, working under an incident management team from Arkansas in the Hammond area.
The eight sites manned by SBTC DR volunteers by mid-September marked the most of any state Baptist DR team, Stice told the TEXAN.
Chaplains see fruit
In addition to feeding, shower / laundry and recovery crews, SBTC DR chaplains and assessors came to Louisiana.
Chaplain Wayne Barber of Jasper found unexpected opportunities to share the gospel in Hammond as he and assessor Jim Casten of Collinsville traveled through mostly middle-class and working-class neighborhoods to offer assistance.
Amazingly, Barber said, many of the gospel encounters happened seemingly at random, at addresses where the team had not intended to go.
“Every night, we just prayed for divine appointments the next day,” Barber told the TEXAN. “I asked the Lord to prepare their hearts and prepare my words.”
One elderly gentleman at first seemed reluctant to talk, telling Barber that he had gone to church. The men kept visiting.
“We talked. He started crying,” Barber recalled. “Then he prayed to accept Christ as Savior.” The new believer was 86.
“That’s pushing it pretty hard,” Barber, himself a young 77, said of the man’s late-in-life decision.
Another time, finding their intended road blocked by the fire department, Barber and Casten headed down an alternate route where they spied people sitting outside their manufactured home to escape the heat inside.
“We stopped and asked if they were O.K.,” Barber said. “Did they need anything?” After conversation, five of the men prayed to accept Christ.
“We weren’t supposed to even be there, but God had a plan,” Barber said.
Another God-ordained appointment came when the pair encountered a young mother with two small children whose military husband was enroute back from Afghanistan. The volunteers returned the next day with two packs of diapers.
“She was so appreciative that we came back. She said she sure could use [the diapers],” Barber said.
One man told the pair it was the first time anyone had ever told him about Jesus. Another man was alerted to the coming of the chaplain team by his Christian mother, whose home they had just visited. She didn’t need help, but he did.
“I hope they tell you about Jesus,” the mother said.
They did, and the young man, an EMT in his thirties, prayed to receive Christ. He also filled out a work request for his home.
Bringing hope and help in crisis is the heart of disaster relief. One survivor who had been helped at her home in Hammond texted her thanks to recovery team leader David Dean, adding this:
“Tonight, when things quiet down, I’m signing up with SBC to give back to my community. God is good.”
Efforts to help Ida survivors in Louisiana are ongoing, Stice said, even as SBTC DR also stays on alert to help survivors of Nicholas as needed. For more information about SBTC DR, visit https://sbtexas.com/disaster-relief.