By Jane Rodgers
Correspondent, Southern Baptist TEXAN
ALEXANDRIA, La. — Pummeled first by the category 4 Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, then inundated by torrential rains from Hurricane Delta only six weeks later, Louisiana endured a double hit prompting a multi-state response by Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers — including DR teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — that is bearing fruit.
DR crews serving in the Bayou State after Hurricane Laura paused work as Delta churned its way inland. Volunteers returned to the field Oct. 11, as a SBTC DR administrative team assumed responsibility from Louisiana Baptist DR for coordinating SBDR recovery efforts based at Philadelphia Baptist in Alexandria.
Volunteers from Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana reestablished operations in Alexandria, with additional teams from Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Alaska and Texas’ Jacksonville College expected to rotate in, said Wally Leyerle, SBTC DR associate and incident leader. Leyerle told the Texan much of the work based in Alexandria is a continuation of Laura recovery efforts and was expected to wrap up on Oct. 31.
For volunteers like Tennessee’s Karen and Tommy Wilson, the deployment has brought unexpected blessings. The couple returned to Alexandria after serving two weeks there following Laura and spending a week at home in Martin, awaiting Delta. They are members of First Baptist Church, Dresden.
Teaming with SBTC DR’s Brad Stover and Larry Mika on Oct. 15, the Wilsons paused from driving skid steers, operating chain saws and dragging tree limbs to make the day of a little boy and his great-uncle.
Karen Wilson noticed little Mykel, age six, shyly watching a DR crew at work in his neighborhood of small frame houses. She asked the man who appeared to be the boy’s father if the youngster would like to take a closer look at the chain saws in action. Bryan Newman, Mykel’s great-uncle, agreed as Karen approached.
“Bless his heart, the little boy took my hand and we walked over, hand in hand,” Karen said. She answered his questions about how chain saws worked.
“What’s that stuff?” Mykel asked, spying sawdust, a novelty to him.
Karen explained and the team allowed Mykel to touch and smell a handful.
“Man, that smells so good,” the little boy exclaimed.
As the men on the crew paused their work to play baseball with Mykel using a pine cone and tree limb, Karen visited with Newman, who related the family history. “I am raising him,” Newman said. “It’s just been really hard. He has so much energy.”
“God put on my heart: this is the guy,” Karen recalled. She remembered the packets of small amounts of cash and Bibles left her by a Louisiana DR volunteer who had asked her to distribute them to people in need.
“You walk into a situation and God just says this is where the need is,” said Karen, a retired physical therapist and veteran of several short-term missionary trips to Honduras. “After hearing Bryan’s story, I knew God was telling me they needed this.”
She went to her vehicle to retrieve and deliver the gift to the big man who stood speechless and then teared up. “You don’t know how much this means,” Newman said in a voice choked with emotion. “This is not a coincidence. This is a God-given appointment.”
The fun was not over for Mykel. With his great-uncle’s permission, Tommy helped the boy climb up into the skid steer, placed a yellow DR cap on his head, and drove him around for several minutes, to Mykel’s delight.
“I want a picture with the big guy,” Mykel asked after the ride, indicating Tommy.
After selfies and photos, Karen explained about the “big guy” to Mykel. “You called Tommy the ‘big guy,’ but there’s really another big guy and He is the reason we are here. That big guy is named Jesus. It’s because Jesus loves you and loves us and He allows us to love you,” Karen told the boy, transforming a DR break into a teachable, gospel moment.
“It was kind of a mini-VBS,” Karen said. “The look on his face was priceless.”
While Tommy, a semi-retired FedEx driver, had deployed often with Tennessee Baptist DR, the Louisiana deployment was only the third for Karen, who retired Aug. 1.
“I’m glad I did,” Karen said. “Now I am devoting my time to DR and grandkids.” Ironically, she retired from a home health agency based in Lafayette, La., and had returned to that state to help.
“I love meeting the people and just listening,” Karen said, describing another episode from the Louisiana deployment when crews working at a home made sure to involve the male homeowner, who had dementia, in the process.
“I am so glad you are here,” the man’s wife said amid joyful tears, as she watched the volunteers carefully incorporate her husband into the day’s work.
“Every appointment that we go to is a divine appointment. … Being able to clean things up is an added bonus,” Karen said. “I am so glad I can be here.” B&R