First Baptist is mourning, yet like so many other churches in Columbia, S.C., and across the state, engaging in ministry as flooding continues to grip Hurricane Joaquin survivors and first responders.
Richard Milroy, 82, “died in his car sometime in the last couple of days due to devastating floods,” minister of discipleship Wes Church wrote to First Baptist members, The Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, reported Oct. 6.
“How do we even begin to put into words all of the emotions we are experiencing?” Church said. “There is so much heartbreak and need in our community.” Milroy was one of at least 17 drowning or auto accident fatalities from the hurricane’s downpours in South and North Carolina.
Some First Baptist members have lost homes or cars, and some have lost all their belongings. College and high school students and their leaders are helping clean up their flood-damaged homes.
Baptist Courier photo by Raz Bradley
Baptist Collegiate Ministry students help set up a South Carolina Baptist disaster relief feeding unit at Riverland Hills Baptist Church in Columbia.
The church also is housing 13 South Carolina Baptist disaster relief volunteers who are feeding more than 1,000 first responders at a nearby city maintenance area.
And volunteers are coordinating with a sister church to collect donations of bottled water and are delivering refreshments to security personnel, EMS staff and firemen.
First Baptist’s outreach is being replicated by churches in numerous other locales.
Richard Harris, interim executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC), wrote to the state’s Baptists in a letter posted by the Baptist Courier on Oct. 6: “We say we are serious about presenting the gospel to everyone in South Carolina and to fulfilling the Great Commission in our lifetime. This flood crisis provides one of the greatest opportunities to reveal our love for our fellow citizens and obedience to the Lord who commissioned us. The empowering of the Holy Spirit is ours to change the population of heaven and hell as we love folks in Jesus’ name.”
Harris, recapping the trauma inflicted by Hurricane Joaquin, noted: “South Carolina has experienced historic rainfall and flooding that few of us have experienced in our lifetime. Thousands across our state have lost homes or had significant damage to their homes, as well as vehicles and other personal property. Business owners are facing huge damage to buildings and inventory loss. Numerous churches (many of our SCBC churches) and their members have felt the wrath of the heavy rains and flooding.
“Throughout Columbia and much of the state,” Harris continued, “the roads, highways and interstates, as well as much of the state’s infrastructure (water, electrical, sewer, etc.), have notable damage which will require days and weeks to repair.”
Harris called for prayer, volunteers and finances.
Baptist Courier photo by Clay Shook
South Carolina Baptist disaster relief volunteers man a feeding station for first responders near downtown Columbia.
“I want to call South Carolina Baptists to join hearts, heads and hands to pray for flood victims as well as our Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief teams already rallying and responding to overwhelming needs. I want to respectfully ask our SCBC pastors to call and mobilize members (some already are) in a united prayer for the victims and those responding with assistance and aid. This crisis provides all of our churches historic opportunities to undergird in prayer the front-line responders as they express the love of Christ, meet needs and share the hope found in the gospel with thousands of the 3.6 million lost/unchurched in South Carolina.”
Regarding volunteers trained in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry, Harris noted, “Many churches and associations have their own trained teams who are/will be responding to the flood crisis. … Some of our fellow state conventions are inquiring about service in South Carolina. We welcome their assistance! … As floodwaters recede and a thorough assessment of damage and needs can be made, teams will be deployed to appropriate locations.”
Regarding finances, Harris wrote, “Big dollars will be needed to give appropriate response to all the challenges before us.” He noted that donations from churches can be received online here https://secure-q.net/Donations/SCBCDonations/11081 and from individuals here. https://secure-q.net/Donations/SCBCDonations/11080.
South Carolina Baptist disaster relief assessment teams, chaplains, two feeding units, mud-out and chainsaw teams and a laundry unit have been deployed to various locations in the state, The Baptist Courier reported. Command centers have been stationed at the South Carolina convention office in Columbia and at the Charleston Baptist Association.
Assessors and chaplains, for example, are visiting homes in the Columbia area to estimate the scope of work that needs to be done in the coming weeks and months. Members of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of South Carolina helped with one of the feeding unit’s setup. The laundry unit is based at a Columbia fire station to wash first responders’ uniforms. Disaster relief teams from North Carolina and Alabama also have arrived.
In an apparent grassroots movement spurred by social media, numerous churches and Baptist associations across the state have begun collecting truckloads of bottled water and driving them to Columbia, where residents are under a “boil water” advisory due to water supplies compromised by bacteria-laden floodwater.
At the Columbia-area Lexington Baptist Association, disaster relief coordinator David Lee said three types of calls have been received: from homeowners with property damage seeking help; from churches volunteering to help; and from individuals also ready to help. The association is on the Web at mylba.org.
Among the volunteers: Keith and Kristyn Getty, contemporary hymn writers best known for “In Christ Alone,” who will hold a benefit concert at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at First Baptist in Columbia.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from Baptist Courier reporting by Art Toalston, senior editor of Baptist Press. The Baptist Courier at baptistcourier.com is the newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Rudy Gray is the Courier’s editor; Butch Blume, the managing editor.)