By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
As the sun shines again over Houston, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) workers are mobilizing for what could be one of the largest relief efforts ever in the U.S.
Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall Aug. 26 as a Category 4 storm and brought record rainfall to the Texas Gulf Coast region. Torrential rains brought flooding to Galveston, Beaumont, Houston and areas in between.
As of Aug. 31, at least 35 were confirmed dead with the death toll expected to rise as the floodwaters recede.
Southern Baptist leaders are urging prayer for the people of Texas as they prepare for the weeks, months and even years of recovery ahead.
‘Pray and be ready’
“Our prayers go out to the people of Texas in the massive flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey,” said Frank S. Page, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee president and CEO. “Our Baptist disaster relief units will be the first on the scene to minister in a variety of ways. I call on Southern Baptists to pray and be ready to assist through giving and going. God bless Texas.”
“We continue to be traumatized and horrified by the images of what’s happening with Hurricane Harvey,” said Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). “We need to pray for those who are in jeopardy and for the first responders as they are seeking to be of help.”
Thousands in the path of the storm evacuated their neighborhoods as floodwaters rose. The Red Cross estimated that more than 30,000 Texans were seeking refuge in some 45 shelters in the Houston area. The city’s main shelter, the George R. Brown Convention Center, was housing more than 9,000 people in the days after the storm’s landfall.
Thousands more may be displaced once cleanup efforts begin. As the rain stopped and floodwaters began
to recede late last week, emergency officials were out assessing damage and aiding residents who had sheltered in place.
SBDR personnel were deploying units as quickly as possible.
Gordon Knight, field ministry strategist and director of chaplains for Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), said SBTC cleanup and recovery, water treatment, communications and chaplains units were deployed almost immediately to the coastal Texas town of Rockport.
Mass feeding and shower units and chaplains were dispatched to Corpus Christi and Rockport.
Mass care feeding, shower and water units were sent to northwest Houston, and laundry, feeding, shower and water support units were set up in inland cities like Austin and San Antonio in order to assist evacuees.
Additional units — bunkhouse, feeding, chaplains, cleanup and recovery, shower, child care, communications and water treatment — were on standby as officials assessed whether conditions were safe enough for relief workers to enter.
Texas Baptist Men (TBM) also were set up to feed evacuees at the Brown Convention Center. A TBM spokesperson said they expect to prepare 24,000 meals a day at the shelter.
One thing is clear — the cleanup and recovery effort will require a multistate effort, Knight said.
“Thank goodness we have sister conventions that respond,” he said recalling the crews from other states that have come to Texas’ aid.
Alabama Baptists have been quick to respond and many are eager to go to Texas to help, said Mark Wakefield, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions disaster relief and chaplaincy ministries strategist.
Alabama Baptists have 7,000 trained disaster relief workers. Last week volunteers began preparing food service, shower and child care units for deployment. Wakefield said teams will be deployed as specific needs are identified by personnel on the ground.
“Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are ready to assist when requested,” Wakefield said. “Self-deployment is discouraged since every part of the infrastructure is overloaded. A disaster this large will require time and a lot of resources. Pray for responses to proceed smoothly.”
Wakefield said people desiring to help in these initial days following the disaster can best help by giving.
“Giving makes it possible for survivors to purchase what they need and gives them control over their lives which they desperately need at this point,” he said.
Wakefield urged people not to collect supplies unless a specific organization has requested them and has agreed to receive them. Clothes, shoes or jackets are not needed.
Wakefield noted that 100 percent of funds donated to disaster relief through SBOM will go to Southern Baptist response organizations in Texas. No administrative fees come out of SBDR donations.
SBDR and Send Relief of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) also will be providing long-term aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Cleanup response teams will be mudding out houses and chainsaw crews will be clearing fallen limbs. Beyond that, Southern Baptists anticipate being involved in rebuild efforts to assist homeowners.
“There are some events that mark a time in history for generations to come,” said Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president. “I believe Hurricane Harvey is one of those events and Southern Baptists will be known by the way we respond.”
Other Southern Baptist organizations are responding to the financial needs of Harvey survivors.
The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation announced a $5,000 HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund Grant to help WMU of Texas provide gift cards to help storm victims with immediate needs.
“We are so grateful that this grant will allow us to respond in Jesus’ name to the very real and urgent needs that are all around us right now,” said Carolyn Porterfield, interim executive director of WMU of Texas.
At press time, no Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams had been deployed, but individual churches and associations, including Coffee and Cleburne, have taken steps to aid in the relief effort.
Cottage Hill Baptist, Mobile, collected cleaning supplies, diapers and toiletry items. Grace Baptist Church, Sumiton, and Mount Hebron West Baptist Church, Elmore, were collecting cleaning supplies and bottled water to take when disaster relief workers deploy to Beaumont, Texas. A team from First Baptist Church, Robertsdale, went to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to help prepare meals for those sheltered there.
Knight noted that trained volunteers will be needed for months and SBDR will be there for the duration. (BP contributed)
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