Saturday, May 23, 2009

Proud To Be On This Team

It is an honor to serve with men and women like those pictured on this post. Leeah and Steve Weber joined me in representing Westmoreland Baptist Church, Michelle Harris and Sara Sutherland were there from Abundant Hope Church in Barboursville, Doug Virgin is our Associational Missionary, John and Pam Freeman represented Calvary Baptist in Chapmanville, and there was another gentleman from Calvary who was there one day, but is not pictured here.

The Greater Huntington Baptist Association had a presence this week in the Matewan, West Virginia area, doing disaster relief work after the terrible flash flooding that took place a week or so ago. We were not huge in number, but we were a blessing to at least one family in the midst of their greatest physical loss, ever.

Our work was not glamorous, nor did we expect it to be. It was hot, smelly, difficult, and dirty, but it was fulfilling to perform it all in Jesus' name. Our particular task was to dig the mud and silt out of the basement of the Tom May family in the community of Red Jacket, WV (just north of Matewan). When Doug, Sara, Michelle, and John arrived on Monday morning, the basement was completely filled with 18 inches of the muck. The muddy mess was enough in itself, but all of the muck covered toys, tools, bicycles, scooters and other items stored in the basement also had to be removed. This was accomplished, piecemeal, as the team came to each item, but the main job was to get the wet, goopy mud out!

There was nothing "high tech" about how the job had to be done. Some members of the team took shovels and five gallon buckets into the cellar, some served as a "bucket brigade" passing the buckets upstairs to us "old men" who dumped them into wheel barrows, who then wheeled the heavy muddy mess back across the road to the creek from whence it came. The work was back breaking and very tedious. Every thirty minutes or so, the folks in the basement had to come up for air and those of us who were "wheelbarrow technicians" on the surface sought some shade. All of us had to wear heavy rubber boots and gloves. The folks in the basement wore masks, and looking back, those of us on the surface SHOULD have. The dried mud and silt was everywhere and the bobcats, dump trucks, Red Cross and National Guard vehicles, and resident's cars and trucks kept the dust constantly circulating through the air. (I am still coughing). Every hour or so, the buckets and wheelbarrows had to be hosed off as the heavy sticky mud added to the weight and sloppiness of the whole thing. Naturally, hosing off the shovels, buckets and other equipment, added to the muddy mess in the yard where we were working.

Similar work was going on in houses and churches all around the Matewan area. We met other Southern Baptist Disaster Relief groups from two other associations in West Virginia, (Mountain State Assn. and Potomac Highlands Assn.). A group of New England Southern Baptists were there, as was a team from First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia (where SBC President Johnny Hunt is Pastor). The SBC Disaster Relief Command Center was located behind the Matewan City Building. The Southern Baptist Conservative Convention of Virginia had their command center trailer there. The Virginians served as coordinators of the Baptist volunteer efforts. They also sent out "assessors" to the various communities, to determine the amounts of damage, and to dispatch cleanup teams to work the area. A Baptist feeding unit from Tennessee set up their mobile kitchen which produced over 4,000 meals per day. The Tennessee Baptists fed all of the National Guard and Relief Workers, and any residents who walked up to the unit. The vast majority of the meals prepared by the Tennesseans, were loaded onto American Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV's) and distributed throughout the disaster area three times per day.

Matewan High School (which, like other schools in the hard hit area) was closed for classes due to the disaster. The Red Cross workers and SBC volunteers were allowed to shower and sleep at the school. What a blessing those showers were! The cots weren't terribly comfortable, but they were a great alternative to the hard gym floor for folks like me who had no air mattresses.

The brief effort of which we were a small part, is only a token of the massive Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work that goes on all across the country when hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters hit. The work is sponsored by the SBC North American Mission Board, and various State Conventions and local associations. Cooperative Program gifts from local churches help fund this ministry, and thousands of man hours of labor are donated by volunteers from all over the country. The two young adults who went from our church were Steve and Leeah Weber. They worked HARD and I believe they were very impressed with the overall efforts of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Leeah commented that she, "Had no idea that all of this Disaster Relief operations existed." Many of our Baptists are in the same boat. SBC Disaster Relief is one of the best kept secrets in America, but anyone who has taken part or received help from Baptist men and women on relief missions can attest to the fact that it is a tremendous ministry.
Should you have any doubt, just ask anybody in New Orleans or along the Gulf Coast about those folks in the yellow shirts and yellow baseball caps. They'll tell you, "Those Baptists are a blessing!"

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