LUMBERTON, NC (BP) – Cars stretched from Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, N.C., down Highway 211 waiting to receive hot meals in a makeshift drive-thru set up by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) in the church's parking lot. Volunteers with the North Carolina Baptists on Mission (NCBM), who comprise North Carolina's SBDR outreach, along with volunteers from churches in town, cooked and distributed meals to residents, many of whom lost everything during Hurricane Florence.
Some of the volunteers, like Hyde Park member Donna DiChiara likewise endured severe damage to their homes. "This storm, my whole yard was ... worse than a swimming pool; it looked like the river," DiChiara said. "Underneath my house, it was flooded to the sub-flooring. Then all of my air conditioning is out, plus the duct work is down, full of water." Jeff Blackburn, Hyde Park's lead pastor, could gauge the severity of the storm by comparing church members' reactions to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, saying that he saw concern on their faces in 2016 but "desperation in their eyes" following Hurricane Florence.
"We have had serious flooding all over the community. At least half of our congregation is displaced, trying to find a place to live," Blackburn said. "They've lost their houses, many of them for the second time" as they did in 2016. Blackburn surmised that at least 200 volunteers from Hyde Park and other churches were serving and that at least a third of those volunteers were now homeless or living with other family members. "What's amazing is that even when their lives are upside down, they're still out there serving, which says a lot about their compassion and commitment to this community," Blackburn said.
Flooding made it difficult for food and supplies to get into Lumberton, creating a lot of anxiety in the community. The North Carolina SBDR team served food to those who could drive up and packed meals into American Red Cross vehicles that delivered meals to nearby shelters. The National Guard used high-water vehicles to deliver supplies and SBDR-prepared hot meals through the floodwaters.
Blackburn praised the NCBM for helping his church serve its neighbors. "I'm glad that we are here and that we have a shared vision together to see Jesus transform the hearts and lives of people in this community." SBDR teams with Missouri Baptists set up their kitchens and equipment in Wallace, N.C., led by Gaylon Moss, who recently became Missouri's disaster relief director after serving with NCBM. "I am grateful for the opportunity to come back," Moss said. "North Carolina is doing a good job coordinating and organizing. We appreciate the opportunity to be here and help serve."
One of Moss' team leaders, Wesley Hammond, noted how every disaster relief effort takes cooperation across each level of Southern Baptist life. Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church in Paris, Mo., described how Bethel Baptist Church in Berea, Ky., housed his team for a night during their long drive from the "Show Me State." Bethel Baptist built a facility designed to house disaster relief volunteers, and the church's hospitality blessed Hammond and his team so that they could show up ready to work. "As we've come in to North Carolina, the church here, Poston Baptist Church, was already trying to do the ministry in the community themselves," Hammond said. "As they were ministering to the community, we were able to come in, and they saw us as the group of people who were there to lift them up and help carry the burden."
As SBDR teams from throughout the United States arrive, they work with different organizations, local leaders and churches to serve those in need. "As we've engaged ... we've seen God expand what we're trying to accomplish by involving the people of the community -- the mayor, chief of police, the National Guard, the American Red Cross," Hammond said. "All of us are working together to minister to the needs of the people here."
An SBDR team from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions set up their site at Southview Baptist Church in Hope Mills, N.C. As they awaited food to begin preparing meals, a few of their volunteers ventured into the surrounding neighborhoods to begin recovery efforts at peoples' homes. A team from Tennessee set up their kitchens at First Baptist Church in Kinston, N.C., and prepared meals for the community. A team from Kentucky began feeding out of Catalyst Church in Jacksonville, N.C., on Wednesday night (Sept. 19). A North Carolina SBDR team has been serving meals from First Baptist Wilmington, N.C., despite the city essentially becoming an island as roads in and out were flooded. Efforts continue at Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, N.C., where President Donald Trump visited Wednesday.
Teams from Mississippi and Florida will also be participating in the feeding and recover efforts. "We'll probably be feeding there for at least a month," said Shane McGivney, the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board's director of men's ministry, reporting that a second team of credentialed SBDR volunteers is being readied to relieve the initial team being deployed to North Carolina. Also, McGivney reported, training has been scheduled by Mississippi's Gulf Coast Baptist Association for volunteers in that area for immediate mobilization to the hurricane area.
As of Wednesday evening, SBDR teams across North and South Carolina had served over 118,000 meals. Around 20 chainsaw jobs or yard cleanup have been completed. SBDR will accelerate its recovery efforts in the coming days and weeks as many homes still remain flooded.
To donate funds for national or state convention DR work in North Carolina or otherwise get involved in Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, visit namb.net/Florence. As noted by McGivney, "In-kind gifts of clothing and household items are not as important right now as monetary gifts that can be used for food, disinfectants and other cleaning supplies and emergency items when and where the need arises."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board. William Perkins, editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, contributed to this report.