Update to original story published Oct. 11, 7 a.m. (Oct. 11, 11:40 a.m.) — Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are wrapping up their work in the U.S. Virgin Islands as of Oct. 12. The airlift kitchen should arrive in the Virgin Islands over the weekend.
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Approximately 25 percent of Florida’s population is Hispanic, which is why a Spanish-speaking chaplain working with Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (ABDR) was a valuable member of one team serving in the state.
“There are pockets of people (in Fort Myers, Florida) who speak little or no English,” said Cookie Baker, an Etowah Baptist ABDR volunteer who said ABDR chaplain Ana Raymundo was helpful in allowing volunteers to “bridge the language barrier and help those who need it.”
One of those who needed help was Juan, an elderly man who had recently had knee replacement surgery but had been working to clean up around his home. Baker said the team gave Juan and his wife a Bible and prayed with them.
Another was Clyde, a blind man whose Spanish-speaking neighbor sent ABDR volunteers to help.
“We were able to minister to him,” Baker said. “We would never have met him had Ana not been with us to talk to his neighbor.”
Clyde and Juan are just two of the hundreds of hurricane survivors assisted by ABDR volunteers working in disaster-stricken areas of Florida, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
Most ABDR teams are working in the Fort Myers, Florida, area, according to an Oct. 2 update by Mark Wakefield, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).
Volunteers have served 1,770 volunteer days during which they prepared 115,000 meals, distributed 287 Bibles and more than 700 tracts, presented the gospel 115 times and reported 13 professions of faith. In a Facebook post, Pleasant Grove Baptist Association Director of Missions Dan Wiggins said ABDR workers in Florida are doing “tremendous work for the Lord and the people of Florida.”
The large-scale ABDR relief effort in Florida is beginning to transition into the recovery phase, Wakefield said. The mass feeding kitchen shut down on Oct. 4. A small feeding unit from First Baptist Church, Trussville, will continue to prepare food for volunteers as cleanup efforts continue.
Wakefield also noted that volunteers are operating a laundry unit in Beaumont, Texas, and other volunteers are working with North End Baptist Church, also in Beaumont. Associational directors have noted that several Alabama Baptist churches have teams working in Houston and surrounding areas in coordination with local churches there.
Hundreds of new ABDR volunteers have been trained in Alabama since Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas and Louisiana, and Wakefield said the state is working on a strategy to deploy many of those volunteers to Texas.
Other Southern Baptist DR volunteers were scheduled to arrive in Puerto Rico over the weekend of Oct. 7–8 to assist in preparing and distributing food, Wakefield said. The island is still reeling after Hurricane Maria knocked out power, cell service and potable water supplies across the island.
Volunteers will be assisting local churches with whatever needs present themselves, Wakefield said.
“The future plan is for the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network to divide the island into regions and for various state conventions to work to take care of any needs that [disaster relief] can meet. This is indeed a long-term response,” Wakefield said in an online update.
Franklin Baptist Association has undertaken an effort to send supplies to Puerto Rico. The association collected cases of water, canned foods, baby diapers and toiletries and shipped four crates to Puerto Rico on Oct. 2. Those crates are expected to arrive the week of Oct. 9, according to Franklin Association Director of Missions Larry Dover. The association hopes to ship 3–4 additional crates soon.
“We should have some charcoal grills and charcoal, batteries and flashlights, as well as food and water in those crates — the essential things you need when you don’t have power,” Dover said.
The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation also has made grants to help pastors in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands purchase water and other basic supplies for their congregations.
Nellie Torrado, executive director of Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands WMU, said people are “beginning to despair” in the midst of the devastation surrounding them.
“On our three islands — Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra — there is no drinking water, not even bottled, nor electricity,” she said. “Gasoline is limited. Communication is sporadic. Lines at the gas stations are very long.”
David George, president of the WMU Foundation, said the organization will continue to look for ways to help with relief and rebuilding in Puerto Rico.
Airlift kitchen on the way
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the SBOM airlift kitchen is on the way to the St. Thomas USVI and two volunteers are there to assist in setup and operation of the kitchen, Wakefield said.
Wakefield praised ABDR volunteers for their hard work over the past four weeks. There is much still to do, he said, but much has been done.
Meanwhile, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center were watching Tropical Storm Nate, blamed for at least 20 deaths in Central America. On Oct. 6, Nate was located just south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, headed toward the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane warnings had been issued for the U.S. Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle. Nate was expected to make landfall Oct. 8 and move inland across the state of Alabama throughout the day on Sunday into Monday. Heavy rain and flooding was expected.
Those interested in serving with ABDR have one more opportunity for training. Registration is still open for sessions to be held Oct. 19–21 at the Shelby Baptist Association Ministry Center in Columbiana.
Training options include chaplaincy, cleanup and recovery, chainsaw and administration for both new and current volunteers.
More information and registration is available at www.sbdr.org.