By Neisha Roberts
The Alabama Baptist
Much like any disaster, the wild fires that ravaged parts of Tennessee were a dominating story in the news for days and even weeks. In late 2016 images from the scorched Smoky Mountain areas were shown on news stations across the nation while stories of loss, recovery and hope also surfaced. But after the immediacy of the need for disaster relief wears off there are still the weeks and months that follow — which often hold many needs but fewer volunteers.
That’s where Tennessee found itself this January as it called on Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief and other state relief groups for help.
Willing, ready to go
Ever at the ready, thanks to willing volunteers and donations, state disaster relief teams were sent to the Sevierville and Gatlinburg area Jan. 17, only a few days after being requested.
Chainsaw and skid steer teams from Birmingham, St. Clair and Cleburne Baptist associations, along with a state disaster relief heavy equipment team, served in Sevier County for one week doing chainsaw work and debris removal, according to Mark Wakefield, disaster relief and chaplaincy ministries strategist for the State Board of Missions.
St. Clair Association’s disaster relief team leader Glenn Pender said his team of 11 worked hard on its first wildfire relief effort. Pender also served as the team’s chaplain while in Tennessee.
“We’ve been to floods, tornadoes and hurricanes but this was the first wildfire,” he said. “Our main goal remains the same though and that is not to just cut down trees and remove debris but to carry Jesus Christ to folks who are in crisis.”
Chris Crain, who’s served as director of missions for St. Clair Association for five months, agreed.
“We want to make sure the people who are affected by any disaster will hear the hope of the gospel first, in the right way, partnered with the helping hands of volunteers.
“Everywhere we go the greatest need is a spiritual need,” Crain said.
Alabama Baptists step up to serve
Alongside Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and many others, individual Alabama Baptists made their way to serve Tennessee on Jan. 4–8 through Fieldstown Volunteers, a newly formed Venture Crew (a division of the Boy Scouts of America).
A team of five served in Gatlinburg in cleanup and helped organize various food, clothing and other household donations given through Volunteer East Tennessee.
One of the volunteers who served on the Fieldstown Volunteers team was a youth member from Emmanuel Baptist Church, Empire, according to crew adviser Mechell Malone. The team worked alongside volunteers from New York, New Orleans and Florida, she said.
“I’m proud of the hard work the boys put in,” Malone said. “One woman drew a sketch of a jewelry box she was hoping we’d find as we worked on her home. The boys sifted through soot and ashes until they found the small jewelry box with the rings inside. When the woman came by later she burst out crying because it was the one possession she had left, after losing everything.” (TAB)