Editor’s note: The story was updated on Sept. 21.
By Lonnie Wilkey
WINNFIELD, La. — Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are in action, ministering in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.
Volunteers began arriving over Labor Day weekend, with the first team stationed at First Baptist Church, Winnfield, La.
On Sept. 19, the Tennessee Baptist DR operations moved to Philadelphia Baptist Church Horseshoe Drive, Alexandria, La. The DR operation in this area included teams from Weakley County Baptist Association and Brainerd Hills Baptist Church, Chattanooga.
Through Sept. 17, Tennessee DR volunteers responding to Hurricane Laura had compiled more than 3,000 work hours, and completed more than 60 chain saw jobs.
There have been 267 professions of faith during the response efforts from all DR teams (Tennessee and others), noted Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“That’s the number that is most important to us,” Jones said.
Though Winnfield is 125 miles north of where Laura came ashore in Lake Charles, it was still a Category 2 hurricane when it hit the area, said Gary Brooks, a DR volunteer from Knox County Baptist Association and a member of Glenwood Baptist Church, Powell.
Brooks, who is serving as the team’s “Blue Cap” told the Baptist and Reflector on Sept. 9 that the team has been working in Dodson, about 10 miles from Winnfield. “This place is absolutely torn up,” he said. “If you drive down any street, every second or third house has a tree in the middle of it.”
Brooks has responded on DR calls following many hurricanes and noted it is hard to compare one with another because “they kind of all look the same.” He did note, however, that what makes this response different is that it is so far inland. “There are so many trees twisted and torn.”
Citing the devastation in the community, Brooks said residents have told him it “will be months before electricity is restored.”
In addition to helping residents get huge trees off their homes, the team, which is comprised of volunteers from Knox County, Nolachucky, Jefferson County and Cumberland Gap associations, rejoiced when a man accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior early in the week.
A team from Woodland Baptist Church, Brownsville, which includes other volunteers from West Tennessee, also is serving in the area, according to Elizabeth Holmes of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board DR staff.
Roscoe England, a member of Sevier Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, began a conversation with a homeowner they had just helped. The owner was on crutches, having injured himself trying to remove some of the trees before the team arrived.
The man expressed amazement when England told him he was 75 years old.
Before the conversation ended, volunteer Lary McCroskey of First Baptist Church, Sevierville, joined the men and listened. When the time was right, McCroskey asked him if he died tonight would he go to heaven. The man replied, “I think so,” England recalled.
McCroskey asked the man if he wanted to be sure and the man prayed the sinner’s prayer. “He has that assurance now that he is going to heaven,” England said.
“I have been in disaster relief for 31 years this month,” England said. “I have been on teams where people made professions of faith but was never personally involved. You don’t know what this means to me,” he said.
Dan Spencer, McCroskey’s pastor at First Baptist Church, Sevierville, noted the opportunity to share Christ is at the heart of disaster relief. “Disaster relief is just one of those ministries that is so pure. It is meeting practical needs that opens the door at a point where the person can be receptive (to hearing the gospel). That’s what our folks love about serving with disaster relief,” he added.
In addition to providing volunteers, Nolachucky Baptist Association, also has sent two large tractor trailers of food and supplies to Lake Charles to be used there and in surrounding areas.
One of the recipients of the supplies from the association’s God’s Warehouse ministry has been Open Door Baptist Church in Ragley, a small town about 10 minutes from Lake Charles. Don Owen, DR director for Nolachucky, connected with a former Carson-Newman University student, Dawson Campbell, who is youth minister at Open Door.
Campbell was excited to connect with Tennessee Baptists. He noted members and volunteers from his church have been handing out supplies in the community. “Trucks like this one from God’s Warehouse have been lifesavers,” Campbell said.
“It’s cool to see this ministry come here and help us out,” the former C-N student added.
Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said that teams are scheduled for relief efforts in Louisiana into October. Teams from Dyer Baptist Association, Beech River Baptist Association, Hamilton County Baptist Association, JST Baptist Association and Knox County are slated to be in Louisiana next week.
“We are proud of how our volunteers have responded to assist victims of Hurricane Laura in the midst of a worldwide pandemic,” Jones said. “Continue to pray for those who have been affected by this disaster and pray that God will open doors for our volunteers to share His love with them.”
Jones also reminded volunteers that participants in DR response to Hurricane Laura must understand that “this response is being conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. All volunteers by virtue of their agreement to participate are indicating that they understand the enhanced danger the pandemic brings to the normal risks and dangers inherent with disaster relief work.
“Volunteers are representing that they have been free from any symptoms of COVID-19 for at least the last 14 days and agree, if they become symptomatic, to immediately notify their team leader, avoid further contact with others on site, and leave as soon as possible to avoid jeopardizing others. Volunteers must practice CDC recommended guidelines whenever and wherever possible,” Jones added.
People interested in contributing to DR for 2020 hurricane/tropical storms can visit the website at tndisasterrelief.org and click on contributions. Checks, designated for 2020 hurricane/tropical storms, can be mailed to Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 682789, Franklin, TN 37068.
DR volunteers interested in serving can contact Holmes at email@example.com. B&R