Tennessee volunteers show love of Christ through disaster relief
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. — The calendar may have rolled into October, but the temperatures on the coast of North Carolina screamed July and August.
The heat didn’t matter, however, to the numerous Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who trekked to various locations throughout coastal North Carolina.
The trip brought tears, sweat and “a lot of Jesus,” volunteers agreed.
Longtime Tennessee Baptist volunteer Roscoe England of Sevier Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, summed it up well: “God is still in the blessing business.”
And it went both ways. Those who served were blessed as were those who were beneficiaries of the hard work performed by Tennessee volunteers.
DR members performed a variety of tasks, ranging from mud out to chain saw to manning laundry and shower units. But whatever the task, it was secondary to their primary purpose — showing the love of Christ to people in need of help and hope. Team members witnessed, prayed with families and provided Bibles and tracts to anyone willing to take them.
Though nearly four weeks have passed since Hurricane Florence struck in mid-September, some people are just now getting assistance due to heavy flooding that occurred post-Florence.
Edsel Carter, who was overseeing DR operations at Parkview Baptist Church in Morehead City where several Tennessee Baptists were housed, noted that 80 percent of the jobs in the area required extensive chain saw work in addition to some mud and tear out. A lot of the water damage came from wind-blown rain rather than flooding in some of the homes. Carter noted more than 1,000 homes in the area were damaged. “This is as bad as I’ve seen,” the long-time DR veteran said. As of Oct. 4, teams had completed 115 jobs with nearly 300 to go and people were still requesting help.
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Carter praised the efforts of Tennessee Baptists. “The Tennessee group has been great.
“They’ve done everything we’ve needed,” he said.
Most volunteers who served the week of Sept. 30-Oct. 6 left with stories of seeing God at work in amazing ways.
William Maxwell, administrative director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, visited with volunteers during the week to provide encouragement on behalf of TBMB President Randy C. Davis who has been recovering from recent health issues.
“Everyone we talked to emphasized that it was about making Christ known to the people they served, whether it be through a formal gospel presentation or unique acts of kindness,” he observed.
“The ministry of disaster relief is always focused on the ultimate relief of knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior.”
Stories from the heart
Regenia and John Rogers of Eastanallee Baptist Church, Riceville, and members of the DR team from Cross Net Baptist Association, based in Cleveland, served as assessors.
They were particularly drawn to a Jewish lady who was very suspicious of the help offered by Baptists. Regenia Rogers said the lady related that her experience with Christians had been bad and she was surprised that Baptists would provide help at no cost. “We cried and we hugged. I told her to remember that one Christian would be praying for her.”
A large team from five different East Tennessee associations (Jefferson County, Knox County, Nolachucky, Chilhowee and Cumberland Gap), led by Brock and Kathy Henry of Talbott Baptist Church, Talbott, helped an 80-year-old retired pastor, now bed-ridden, get back into his home after nearly four weeks. Ironically it was a task the team originally did not want to tackle.
It was a hard job and the team didn’t really know the circumstances, Kathy Henry explained. “I am so thankful now we could get the job completed. I’m just amazed at how God works and He puts us in the places He needs us.”
The team returned to the house after the pastor, Ronald E. Howland Sr., and his wife Barbara were able to move back in (though the house still needed some major renovation). “God moved you here at the right time and the right place,” Barbara Howland told the East Tennessee team. “That’s what makes Him so wonderful. He sees ahead.”
A team from Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Halls, led by Pastor Nathe Ozment, saw a local resident accept Christ. Church member Barry Hart shared a simple plan of salvation and the man accepted Christ. Hart stressed it was not his doing. “It’s all about the Lord’s success,” he said.
Ozment, who has led several DR teams, said disaster relief provides “opportunities to show people the love of Christ. “Jesus told us to go and tell, not to come and see. Disaster relief is an opportunity to go and tell.”
A team from First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, (Steve and Kathy Mills and Louis and Mary Roberts) manned a laundry trailer at Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington.
Steve Mills noted that though they did not go out to job sites they were able to minister and visit with local residents who needed laundry done. “It was an opportunity to hear what was going on in their lives,” he observed.
Mary Roberts noted many of the residents are still “shellshocked” especially those just returning to their homes and finding mold and a lot of damage. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The team shared that they were able to build a relationship with a young man named “Joseph” who came and served as a volunteer, but had little if any church background.
They showed him a lot of kindness and gave him a DR Bible before he left. “He got a a lot of Jesus,” Mary Roberts said.
Residents express gratitude
Larry Thames of Morehead City is a retired state trooper who has never had to “ask for help,” he said. Yet, after tornadoes spun off from Hurricane Florence, and left trees through his roof, he sought help from the DR operation at Parkview Baptist.
“They told me they would send help and they did,” Thames said. “Tennessee Baptists showed up and didn’t ask for anything. They just said, ‘What can we do to help?’
“Words can’t describe my feelings,” he continued. “It’s a miracle.”
Shannon and Laura Long of First Baptist Church, Shelbyville, worked with team members from New Duck River Baptist Association and other Tennessee Baptist volunteers, on Thames’ house.
He noted that when they first arrived at his house he was having a hard time “letting things go.” By the end of the day, he was making plans for the future, Long said. “It was an amazing day. God has been in it all the way.”
By the end of the week, Long did not want to leave because so many needs still existed. “I feel I have been blessed more than I’ve blessed others,” he said.
Ellen Wiesner of Buffalo Grove Baptist Church, Jefferson City, was on her first disaster relief trip — at the age of 77. She had never taken a DR trip before because she thought “I was too old.”
But after coming on this trip and ministering with the hurricane victims, she wants to do it again and bring her husband next time. “It’s been a blessing.”
Donations for hurricane disaster relief efforts can be made at http://tndisasterrelief.org/contributions.