In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, many Baptist churches across North Carolina are discovering ways to serve their neighbors, even as they work to mend damage to their own homes and church buildings.
Facebook photo from Vertical Church
Vertical Church's Lumberton, N.C., campus was inundated with 30 inches of floodwater during Hurricane Florence, just one month after the congregation launched services in the newly renovated facility.
Temple Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., plans to use their facility as a collection site for disaster relief supplies, including food, clothing, baby care items, cleaning products and hygiene kits.
The effort, called “Operation Healing,” was set in motion by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, according to Kelly Bullard, pastor of Temple Baptist.
Todd Lamphere, pastor of global outreach for Paula White Ministries and liaison for the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, told the Biblical Recorder that Temple Baptist was “strategically located” and would become a hub where churches could receive supplies to distribute to their congregants.
“Pastor Kelly Bullard and Temple Baptist Church have teamed up with sister churches in the New South River Baptist Association to bring help and healing to hurting communities affected by Hurricane Florence,” Lamphere said.
“In the midst of their own struggles, they are reaching out to provide food, baby supplies and personal hygiene to families in need.”
Bullard is currently asking churches to collect items and recruit volunteers. The site will receive donated items from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the following days: Sept. 26-28 and Oct. 1-5. Churches can call 910-485-8791 to coordinate supply drop-offs and schedule times for volunteer teams to serve.
Temple Baptist had previously scheduled a Christian music festival called “NextFest” to take place Oct. 6, but organizers have since revised the plan to use the time to collect items for Operation Healing. Churches and families can drop off supplies that day from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Lunch and dinner will be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to disaster relief efforts. In addition, there will be kids activities, a blood drive and serving opportunities to pack hygiene and cleaning kits.
Vertical Church, across its three locations in Pembroke, Lumberton and Elizabethtown, is serving nearby communities and recovering from complete inundation at one of its campuses.
Mike Pittman, pastor of Vertical Church, said the Lumberton campus launched services in its new facility only a month before it took on 30 inches of floodwater during Hurricane Florence.
Despite the extensive flooding at that location, Pittman said the vast majority of church members received little damage to their homes and were eager to help their neighbors.
“I'm so proud of our people,” he told the Recorder. “Everybody has some sort of damage – little things. But so many of them said we’ll take care of that later, let’s serve.”
Pittman described area residents as traumatized. Hurricane Matthew brought widespread flooding to the area in 2016, and many families still haven’t fully recovered.
“People are asking, ‘How can this happen twice, two-years apart?’” he said, but described the situation as an opportunity for churches to help.
Vertical Church’s campus in Elizabethtown – a former car dealership with multiple loading bays – is being used as a collection and distribution site for supplies, as well as a hub for multiple disaster relief organizations.
“We’re just trying to bring stability to this community,” Pittman said. “It’s a shining moment where people really see the value of God's church.”
Phil Addison, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bunnlevel, said the church building sustained minor roof and water damage during Hurricane Florence, but he has been coordinating relief efforts in his region.
Addison, who is also a local firefighter, and members of Friendship Baptist have been working with the Little River Baptist Association, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Baptists on Mission (also called North Carolina Baptist Men) and other organizations to serve nearby residents.
“You know those things in life that just happen, and you go with it?” he said. “Everybody at church has this attitude. We didn’t sit down and look at the budget and weigh the costs. It has literally been, ‘This is the cost and what we’re supposed to be doing. OK preacher, what do we do next?’”
The church’s property has served as a FEMA registration site and hub for recovery teams, in addition to hosting meal preparation and distribution efforts.
Addison said Little River’s associational leader, Marty Dupree, has been a “vital resource” in coordinating disaster relief aid.
“The teamwork of churches makes it happen,” he said.
The Recorder has received additional reports from churches in North Carolina. This story will be updated as more information becomes available. Email [email protected] with news and story tips.