By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
WAVERLY — In the last few days and weeks of Christmas break, several college students from across Tennessee spent their last remaining “free” time ministering to flood victims in Waverly.
Many residents have yet to return to their homes following the massive flood which hit Waverly and other parts of Humphreys County and surrounding counties in August.
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are still in Waverly, based at First Baptist Church, helping residents with tear out and remodeling/repair efforts.
Baptist Collegiate Ministry students from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and the University of Tennessee, Martin, were on site the week of Jan. 3. A team from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will be in Waverly the week of Jan. 10 and other teams are scheduled for future dates.
Kaye Thomas, who along with her husband, John Thomas, of First Baptist Church, Sevierville, has been on site since October, coordinating volunteer teams. The college students “have been super hard workers,” she affirmed. “They have been a good group to work with.”
Chuck Thacker of First Baptist Church, Gallatin, worked with the Martin BCM group. “They amaze me every time we go out,” he said of the BCM students he has worked with. He noted the UT-Martin team is “a hard-working group of Christian young people.”
He noted the team did everything from tearing out insulation to crawling underneath floors. “Nothing has fazed them. I don’t think they are afraid of anything.”
“The disaster experienced by the citizens of Waverly was so close to home for our UTM BCM students,” said Morgan Owen, BCM director. “Over the years, we have had a variety of students from that area involved in our BCM ministry. In the students’ hearts, they wanted to help those who have suffered so much loss.”
David Owens, a DR volunteer from Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Signal Mountain, and others from the church worked with the BCM students from UT-Chattanooga. Noting it was his first experience working with college students, Owens observed that “they have really done a good job. They are hard workers.”
Steven Johnston, BCM director at UT-Chattanooga, noted several BCMs responded to a call from Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, in December. Johnston checked with some of his students and they said, “Let’s do it,” he noted. Twelve students accompanied Johnston to Waverly and only one had prior disaster relief experience.
Prior to the trip, Johnston contacted Hamilton County Baptist Association which put him in touch with Owens and the team from Mount Carmel. He noted that it was fulfilling to connect college students with senior adults who have taught them how to use tools they were unfamiliar with.
Johnston observed that the experience in Waverly is a great example of multiple entities (the local association and churches, the BCMs and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) working together for ministry. “It is great to see the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions coming together for this endeavor,” he said.
BCM student Rebekah Pass of Ridgedale Baptist Church, Chattanooga, noted that it was “special” to work with people from multiple generations and see them use their unique God-given talents to show the love of Christ to a community that has been devastated.”
Fellow student Hayley Lovingood of Grace Baptist Church, Knoxville, agreed. She noted the residents were excited to see them come to help. “It is neat to work with people older than me who have been doing this a long time,” she said.
Amber Walliser of Lookout Valley Baptist Church in Chattanooga, added, “It was nice to see a generation excited about us being here and encouraging us.”
Mary Claire Comperry of Ridgedale Baptist also enjoyed working with the older adults from Mount Carmel. “I hope this community is able to see the love of Christ through our actions,” she said.
Prior to moving to another work site, the team visited with and prayed with homeowner William Parrott. “This is a blessing,” he told the team. “This would not have gotten done if you had not come.”
Wes Jones of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief expressed his gratitude and appreciation to all the volunteers, including the BCM students, who have responded to the tragedy in Waverly and also in other parts of the state following a string of tornadoes in December.
“I enjoy seeing the different generations work together,” Jones said. “It is good to know that the younger generation coming up loves to serve and help people while also helping to bring hope and healing to those effected by disaster.”
Kaye Thomas is appreciative of the work done by the BCM students over their Christmas break and all the volunteers who have assisted in the cleanup and remodeling/repair efforts in Waverly. She noted that there have been 132 “tear out” jobs completed by volunteers since October and about 78 families are being helped with their homes.
Thomas noted volunteers are needed, especially in February. Individuals with expertise in HVAC, electrical and plumbing work are especially needed, she said. She noted volunteers do not have to be trained in disaster relief to help with the efforts in Waverly. For more information, contact email@example.com or call 615-969-0410.
Those interested in supporting DR efforts can visit tndisasterrelief.org and click the Give Now button. B&R