Tennessee Baptist DR volunteers continue to help South Carolina flood victims
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MANNING, S.C. — Driving past homes in the low country region of South Carolina between Columbia and the coast, one might not suspect that less than a month ago many roads were impassable.
And, unless there was the obvious sign of water-logged furniture piled across the front yard awaiting trash pickup, one might not suspect that as much as 24 inches of rain fell upon the area in a three-day period between Oct. 3-5.
Yet, looks can be deceiving. Just ask the owners of those homes whose furniture and belongings have not been removed and the stench of mold and mildew fill the air.
Unfortunately, a month following the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Joaquin, there are many homes still untouched. And, numerous others that have been cleaned out still face massive rebuilding efforts. Some residents have insurance to handle the cost of remodeling/rebuilding. The majority of them do not.
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, along with their counterparts from at least 14 other Baptist state conventions, have been providing needed help and hope to the victims of mass flooding that occurred in early October.
Dozens of Tennessee Baptist volunteers have served out of First Baptist Church, Manning, since the church opened its doors, facilities, and hearts to the Tennessee teams less than a week after the flooding. More volunteers will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.
Volunteers make a difference
The volunteers are making a difference, affirmed Dale Roach, lead pastor of First Baptist Church, Manning.
“They have made a mark on our community that has been powerful,” Roach said.
Both Roach and his associate pastor, Nick Erickson, agreed that the Tennessee teams have been goodwill ambassadors for the church and Southern Baptists. “They have opened doors that we didn’t have opened before,” Erickson observed.
“It’s been a great witness for our church,” Roach agreed.
The church opened up one of its basically unused buildings for a distribution center for Clarendon County and outlying areas. Donations of water, cleaning supplies, food, and baby items literally poured into the church. Tennessee teams have been taking boxes of food and cleaning supplies with them to leave at homes where they are providing flood relief.
Volunteers also have been a great witness for the community as a whole.
“Tennessee Baptists have been answers to prayer,” said Manning Mayor Julia A. Nelson.
She admitted she had no experience dealing with what she has encountered since the flooding. “After visiting homes and smelling the mold and mildew, “we knew there was a need” for assistance, the mayor said.
“We have been blessed by the efforts of Tennessee Baptists,” Nelson added.
Those who have personally benefited from the services of Tennessee Baptist volunteers agree.
Tennessee Baptists have “been a savior,” said Deborah Hanna of Kingstree. Hanna has worked with Tennessee teams on behalf of her 88-year-old mother who had to leave her home and stay with relatives following the flooding which caused major damage to the only home she has known since the mid-1950s.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Hanna said. “Tennessee Baptists have brought a glimmer of hope to a dark situation,” she added.
Hanna said it was “overwhelming” to realize people from another state would take time off from work and travel to South Carolina to assist flood victims. “The volunteers have brought a smile to my face.”
Joe Ashley McClary Jr. also found himself helping his mother who was flooded out of her home on the bank of the Black River in Kingstree. “My mom could not afford to pay people to clean out her house,” McClary said. “To have someone who cares and help means a lot,” he added.
McClary, who acknowledged he was still in “a daze” three weeks after the flood, said he did not know how he could have removed the furniture and appliances from the house without help. The volunteers have been “a blessing,” he stressed.
Some residents were not quite ready to accept help at first.
Jim Ramey, disaster relief director for Sullivan Baptist Association, based in Kingsport, served as the first incident commander for Tennessee DR at First Baptist Church, Manning.
On his first day of ministry there, Ramey and Roach visited a homeowner who had already been swindled by a person who took $6,000 from her but did not do the work he had promised. She was very hesitant to work with the DR volunteers, Ramey said.
“The first thing we do is build a relationship and they see who we are,” Ramey said.
And, it apparently worked. By the second week, the teams were receiving many more phone calls requesting help, said Frank Metcalfe, a member of Harmony Baptist Church, Adams, and a member of the Cumberland Baptist Association DR team. Metcalfe served as incident commander the week of Oct. 18.
“We are making headway with trust in the community,” Metcalfe observed.
Erickson agreed, noting that the trust level in teams has gone up in less than a week. The people are seeing that it is okay to allow Tennessee volunteers to come into their homes and help. “The witness of the disaster relief teams has been powerful,” he said.
Kaye Thomas, a longtime disaster relief volunteer, noted that seeing the damage caused by the flooding is “heartbreaking.” She visited one home in which the couple had lost all their furniture and had three feet of water in their house for a week. “All you can do is hug their necks and tell them that God loves them,” she said.
Flood recovery or “mud out” as it is commonly referred to is one of the hardest jobs in disaster relief, several volunteers said.
Flood recovery is a slow process, Metcalfe observed, noting that he had one job that “took a good team” all week to complete. “It’s hard to tell what you have to do until you get to the home and begin work,” Metcalf explained.
Stan Roach, leader of the disaster relief team from Lyons Creek Baptist Church, Strawberry Plains, agreed. “Flood recovery is the hardest of disaster relief work,” he affirmed.
But, he continued, the work of flood recovery volunteers is also vitally important. “We give them a little hope.”
Lyons Creek volunteer John Lawrence noted that the time delay in providing flood recovery hurts the homeowner. Three weeks after the flood, some homes have not been touched, he observed. “When people get up in the morning they see and smell it and when they go to bed at night they see and smell it.”
One advantage of flood recovery is that volunteers are more likely to have close interaction with the homeowner that leads to ministry and witnessing opportunities, volunteers agreed.
“I have been pleased with how our teams have ministered,” Metcalfe said. “They don’t miss many opportunities. At least two people have made professions of faith as a result of Tennessee teams sharing Christ during recovery efforts. See related story in box on this page.
Building relationships in order to share the gospel is important, said volunteer Carolyn Watson, director of Cumberland Association’s DR team. Watson served during the first week in Manning.
Flood recovery is more than about “saving their stuff,” she stressed. Getting to know the people through initial conversations can lead to deeper conversations that can be about faith, Watson said.
Don Elmore, a retired pastor and member of Immanuel Baptist Church, Lebanon, served as an “assessor.”
Assessors are “our eyes and ears” on the field, Metcalfe noted. They help prioritize the jobs, he added.
Unfortunately, disaster relief teams cannot meet every need that is found, Metcalfe and Elmore said. “Some homes are beyond our scope of work,” Metcalfe observed. In those cases, teams have been able to leave behind boxes of food and cleaning items supplied by FBC, Manning.
Elmore went to one home that he knew was beyond the team’s scope and knew they would not be able to help the homeowner. “That broke my heart. It kills us to have to say no.”
Yet Elmore keeps everything in perspective. “We can’t run ahead of God. He’s working things out in His time and for His glory, and the benefit of His people.”
“I am grateful for all the volunteers who have given of their time to go,” said Wesley Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“They are serving the Lord by serving the people in South Carolina who were affected by the flooding. They were quick to interrupt their personal schedules to make time to go,” he added.
Jones noted he was excited because “we have had people responding from all over the state. Though the distance is much farther from West Tennessee, they are willing to make the sacrifice. Groups from different associations and different parts of the state have joined together to form teams to serve. People have been willing to go out of their comfort zone and assist in mud out operations even though that may not be their area of training,” he continued.
Jones said that as of Oct. 27 nearly 140 volunteers had made the trek to the Palmetto State and plans are for volunteers to be in South Carolina for at least two more weeks. Volunteers have assessed around 130 projects and completed a number of them, Jones noted.
“Most importantly, they have had a number of ministry contacts and at least four people have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior,” he said.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention is still accepting contributions for the South Carolina Flooding Disaster Relief Fund. Contributions can be made online at www.tndisasterrelief.org or to the Tennessee Baptist Convention, P.O. Box 728, Brentwood, TN 37024.