Alabama Baptist volunteers serve immediate needs in Louisiana, share gospel along way

It’s a common scene after a natural disaster — miles-long lines at Walmart and thousands of people walking around with what disaster relief volunteers call “the million miles stare” as survivors search for items to replace the necessities they have lost.

It’s happening in Louisiana, where residents withstood record-shattering rainfall of between 4 and 26 inches in different areas throughout a four-day period in mid-August. More than 15 parishes were affected and at least 13 people were reported dead at press time.

Most of those with “the stare” just need someone to share their story with, according to Mark Wakefield, disaster relief and chaplaincy ministry strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).

Ministering in the aisle

One Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) chaplain, who also was running a state DR shower unit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ran into many residents with just that look at the store and was able to minister to them right there in the aisle, Wakefield told The Alabama Baptist.

Dozens of Alabama Baptist DR volunteers deployed to Louisiana and ministered in different ways (through mud-out teams, administrative roles, chaplaincy, shower units, laundry units and incident management roles) beginning Aug. 19.

Alabama Baptists deploy

At press time the first round of teams were finishing up their week in the Baton Rouge area and a new set of teams was scheduled to arrive Aug. 28, Wakefield said.

The incoming volunteers include eight chaplains, several mud-out teams, two incident managers and two administrative workers — all from Tuskegee Lee, Cleburne, Marshall, Colbert Lauderdale, Chilton and Sand Mountain Baptist associations. The teams will be stationed at Istrouma Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Volunteer teams from Columbia, Baldwin and Tuskegee Lee Baptist associations were on-site the first week of relief efforts. Two laundry units from Mobile Baptist Association and three shower units also were in place and operational at press time.

State DR teams have committed to at least four weeks of service, Wakefield said.

Other DR teams from Baptist state conventions of Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas-Nebraska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia also were on the ground serving in multiple capacities at press time.

National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and the WMU Foundation have assisted survivors by sending a $6,000 grant from the HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund to First Baptist Church, Lafayette, Louisiana, for use in relief efforts.

Andrea McKenzie, minister of missions and college students at First, Lafayette, said, “We’re helping about 40 families who are affected. Their homes were not in a flood zone and they do not have flood insurance. Their neighborhoods had never flooded before but now they have several inches of water in their homes.”

The HEART Fund grant will be used to purchase items for the 40 families and also will be used to purchase gift cards that other families can use to buy necessities for cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

Judith Edwards, WMU Foundation board member, said, “When we learn of disasters we sometimes feel all we can do is pray. By giving to the HEART Fund, even those of us who cannot physically help can still reach out to the hurting in Christ’s name.”

David George, WMU Foundation president and member of Shades Crest Baptist Church, Hoover, said, “There are immediate needs like food and shelter now, but there will be many additional needs in the days and weeks ahead.”

To assist in the weeks to come, Providence Baptist Church, Opelika, began collecting bottled water, bleach, baby diapers, baby formula and baby wipes to send to Alabama’s neighbor state.

Pastor Rusty Sowell said a former church member, who now serves as a pastor near Hammond, Louisiana, requested these immediate need items.

“We’ll be collecting items as long as there’s a need,” Sowell said, noting that at press time there were several hundred items that had been donated and would be delivered in early September.

Being a part of the DR effort is “the heart of who we are,” Sowell said of his congregation. “We’re to meet people at their point of need, and their greater need at this moment is just basic needs.”

Happy Hill Baptist Church, Heflin, also collected goods (secondhand clothing, school supplies, household goods and cleaning supplies) through Aug. 31 before delivering to Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge.

Siloam Baptist Church, Marion, sent a team of three volunteers along with the Baldwin Baptist Association team. The Siloam Baptist volunteers have made contact with former Alabamians who now serve a church in Baker, Louisiana.

Tuskegee Lee Baptist Association Director of Missions Bill King said the association’s mud-out team along with two chaplains were deployed mid-August, and the association likely will send out more teams in the coming weeks.

Working with local businesses

Bessemer Baptist Association partnered with a local car dealership, Town and Country Ford, to collect cleaning supplies, various tools and baby diapers, wipes and formula. They collected the items at the dealership through Aug. 31 and at press time planned to deliver the items to Addis, Louisiana, in the following days.

If the first several days of relief efforts are any sign of what’s to come, then “the Lord will get the credit,” Wakefield said, “as the job will get done and people will be taken care of.”

He shared a story about a man who accepted Christ after he heard the gospel from an Alabama Baptist DR volunteer at a shower unit.

Another volunteer gave out pocket calendars with the gospel message in Spanish to first responders in the area to hand out. The first responders gave them to the first people they encountered on their shift and they happened to be a Spanish-speaking group — and one person came to the Lord because of it, Wakefield said.

When Alabama Baptists give through the Cooperative Program or directly to Louisiana Flood Relief through SBOM, Wakefield said, “it’s making a difference in people’s lives.”

To listen to a sermon related to disaster relief, listen to ‘Total Loss’ by Ty Parten, pastor of Thomasville Baptist Church, at

To give an offering to help Louisiana flood survivors, visit

To give to the HEART Fund for disaster relief, visit or mail donations to WMU Foundation HEART Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL 35242.

To become trained in disaster relief and find out about opportunities to serve, visit