In conversations with Baptist leaders in central and eastern North Carolina, I have been deeply moved by the devastation Hurricane Matthew unloaded on the people of our state. I’ve also heard many personal stories of hope and triumph that emerged after the destructive rain and wind move out. The material damage has not destroyed hope and the spirit of resilience within many of the storm’s victims.
Cameron McGill is the pastor of Dublin First Baptist Church and the first vice president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. He shared with me some of the work God is doing in the Dublin area.
“Beginning Sunday (Oct. 9), we discovered there were small pockets of people in despair, migrant workers, and people in remote areas who were not expecting to be flooded were cut off from everybody,” he said.
The National Guard and North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) began to identify these pockets of stranded people. Two churches prepared meals and many others distributed the food – some by boat. “We discovered there were 300 migrant workers that were stranded,” McGill explained. “They were safe where they were, and there was no need to take them somewhere else. … I’ve been here 15 years, and it’s an area I didn’t even know existed.”
As food was delivered, each person picked up their meal and just held it. Although they had not eaten in 24 hours, no one began to eat immediately, McGill said. “But as soon as the last person came through the line they all started clapping and cheering.”
“It reminded me of being on the foreign mission field and seeing people running out – whether you’re distributing shoe boxes or water. They were lining up calmly, orderly, respectfully and so grateful for the meals.”
Volunteers in Bladen County are operating like runners in a relay race. “We have one group going to the store,” McGill continued. “We have only one grocery store open in Elizabethtown – Food Lion. Their shelves have been bare. So people have been going to Fayetteville and other towns for grocery shopping. They come back and distribute the food, preparing the food – all of the churches are working together.”
The women are traveling to Lumberton to pick up prepared meals from the NCBM feeding unit while the men deliver the food and serve other needs closer to home.
Some of the food is served to first responders that are “working day and night,” he added. “They’re still discovering places where people lived that they didn’t even know existed. Their roads are not on a map. They’ve been rescuing people day and night.”
Volunteers are “coming from everywhere,” according to McGill. “A trailer filled with non-perishables is scheduled to arrive from Michigan in a few days. Beach Road Baptist Church in Southport is sending a load of food today (Oct. 14) and another load tomorrow. Westwood Baptist Church (Roxboro) where Gerald Hodges is pastor, is bringing a load today and a load tomorrow.”
Hodges is a Biblical Recorder board member.
Electricity has been restored to most of the area. Many church facilities are still flooded. There is much to do.
“Unfortunately while the storms bring out the best in most people, it brings out the worst in some people,” McGill said. Some churches and businesses have been robbed. A motorcycle dealership was almost emptied by looters.
A few miles northeast of Bladen County, Richard Weeks is discovering new ministry needs almost every hour. Weeks serves as director of missions for the Eastern Baptist Association.
“We’ve opened a recovery site for NCBM in the associational office of the Eastern Baptist Association,” he said. “We sent our first teams out [Oct. 13] and they completed five chain saw jobs, taking trees out of houses. Today (Oct. 14), I have assessors that are out looking at the 14 jobs that were called in this morning.”
The work ranges from chain saw work and putting tarps on houses, to moving damaged furniture out of flooded homes, according to Weeks. “We expect the number of flooded houses to increase as the river drops. We still have right much of an area that is still under water.”
The water is beginning to recede, but not enough to get into some areas. An area near the town of Garland experienced severe flooding. Center Baptist Church was completely destroyed with eight feet of water in the sanctuary.
The same church was destroyed and rebuilt when Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999.
The good news is that volunteers are stepping up. “We’ve had a great response,” Weeks said. “Teams from other associations and other churches have contacted us. They want to come in next week as we get the work orders in.”
Weeks said the NCBM feeding unit in Fayetteville has been a life-saver. “We’ve had up to three feeding sites in our association: one at Siloam Baptist Church in Harrells, one at Garland Baptist Church and one in Clinton at Grove Park Baptist Church.
“Originally we were having to go and pick up meals from the Fayetteville kitchen, but now they are delivering them to us,” Weeks added. “I was originally taking trips back and forth for two days. We are feeding somewhere around 3,000 meals a day.”
He said the volunteers that are delivering meals frees him to focus on ministry and other recovery efforts. Four recovery coordination sites are planned for the area.
“Once we get that going we’ll be able to handle more people that want to help,” Weeks added. “We’re in the early stages of the recovery. The feeding was the big thing the first few days, now we’re getting into the recovery stages.”
He said right now people need the “bare essentials.” Many churches and other groups are collecting essential items and bringing them to the area for distribution.
“Please keep praying,” Weeks requested. “When these rivers go down, that’s when we’ll have the greatest need.”
Those who want to serve in the area can all Richard Week’s cell at (910) 590-1720 or register online through NCBM, who is coordinating the recovery work.
More great stories will emerge from the destruction of Matthew. We can give thanks for the spirit of generosity and sacrificial service that is flowing out of the hearts of every church, every volunteer.
“… for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” – Matthew 25:35-40, NKJV