By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (ABDR) volunteers helping residents in hurricane-ravaged Florida are finding many physical needs and great spiritual needs as well.
“A lot of it is heartbreaking but some of it is joyous,” said Thelma Goolsby, an ABDR chaplain from Hepzibah Baptist Church, McCalla, in Pleasant Grove Baptist Association, who had several opportunities to share the gospel with hurricane survivors while serving in Lee County, Florida, on Sept. 14–19.
One encounter Goolsby had with a young mother left no doubt the Holy Spirit is speaking to the lost in the midst of recovery efforts.
“I asked her who Jesus is to her and she said, ‘I don’t do religious stuff.’ I said I don’t either — it’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Goolsby said. “I told her Jesus loves her so much that He sent me from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Fort Myers, Florida, to tell her.”
After a long conversation, Goolsby left the young woman with a Bible she promised to read and a promise from Goolsby to pray for the woman and her children. Goolsby has several new names on her prayer list from her time in Florida, as do other volunteers who are helping as part of ABDR’s work in Florida.
One of many teams
Goolsby’s team was just one of several ABDR teams serving in the three-county area where ABDR volunteers are currently assigned.
A chainsaw team from Etowah Baptist Association served Sept. 19–27. They cut down trees and picked up debris, working daily in the late summer heat and humidity.
But blessings abounded, team member Donna Skaggs wrote in a Facebook post.
“(From) seeing beautiful tropical flowers that survived the storm and even witnessing at McDonalds, we were blessed. I just noticed that in almost every picture we were all smiling,” she wrote.
Several reports of salvation gave volunteers across the area more reason to smile. A 12-year-old neighbor of one family being assisted by ABDR was saved. Pleasant Grove Director of Missions (DOM) Dan Wiggins reported 12 salvations among those ministered to by his team.
“God is so good,” he wrote in a newsletter update.
Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) Executive Director Rick Lance noted the salvation reports and the help ABDR has provided in getting churches ready for services once again.
Lance also praised Alabama Baptists’ cooperative effort in sending funds to Texas for hurricane relief work there and for their financial and volunteer support in Florida.
“I want to thank you, Alabama Baptists. This has been a supreme test for us,” Lance said. “I want to thank you for your praying, your giving and for those who are able to go, your going.”
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) entities are working to help survivors in several Caribbean islands devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Hurricane Maria left almost all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million citizens without power.
A statement from the U.S. Department of Defense on Sept. 27 said nearly half of the population also remains without drinking water. A church planting catalyst in Puerto Rico told Baptist Press that the condition of most of the 90 or so Southern Baptist churches on the island is still unknown.
On Sept. 28 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams permission to move onto the island to help recovery efforts, according to a source from the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The teams had been on standby as National Guard and U.S. military troops conducted search and rescue efforts and delivered emergency humanitarian resources.
In the meantime NAMB has been working closely with state Baptist partners, FEMA, the American Red Cross and Southern Baptist pastors on the island to set a response in place.
“We have just received a green light from government officials,” said David Melber, NAMB’s vice president of Send Relief. “Southern Baptists will play a significant role in this response and there will be a long-term need for volunteers and resources.”
Melber said the Southern Baptist response will include feeding teams that will be serving at several locations throughout the island. In addition, Send Relief is sending care packages directly to Puerto Rican Southern Baptist pastors. The packages will include vital equipment and supplies. Pastors are visiting with survivors in shelters, praying with them and offering spiritual comfort.
Recovery in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where an additional eight Southern Baptist churches are located, also has been slow because of crippled infrastructure.
Lennox Zamore, pastor of Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church in Saint Thomas, said churches are rallying to help by serving as distribution centers for food, supplies, tarps and counseling. It will take months to regain electrical power; reopen schools, universities and government offices; and restore government services, he said.
Baptist Global Response (BGR) is working with partners in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Dominica, island nations hit hard by hurricanes Irma and Maria. A BGR update on hurricane relief noted that the power plant on Grand Turk was “totally destroyed,” leaving residents without electricity for cooking and refrigeration. A BGR update also noted that in the midst of the desperate situation, Caribbean hurricane survivors and relief partners are expressing gratitude for prayers and aid.
“Thank you so much for your response in this time of need across the Caribbean,” the update read. “Know that the people of the affected countries greatly appreciate the effort. We continue to pray that our gracious Lord will replenish your strength as you show His love to the nations across the region.”
To donate to ongoing hurricane relief in Texas and Florida, visit sbdr.org/hurricanerelief.