Aboard a Black Hawk helicopter rescuing flood victims in south Louisiana, Staff Sgt. Chad McCann saw “water to the roofs of homes as far as you can see,” with the Amite River still rising, “methodically washing away foundations, structures and trees.”
Photo by Jered Thomas, Baptist Message
Sandbags surround First Baptist Church in Lake Arthur, La., on Aug. 18 as the community braced for the crest of the Mermentau River.
“It is way worse … more widespread” than even Hurricane Katrina, said McCann, a member of Union Baptist Church in Deville, La., who made 80 airlift rescues after Katrina’s 2005 onslaught.
[T]hese people live in areas that have never flooded … not in a 1,000 years,” McCann told the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
“They had no way of knowing this was going to happen when they went to bed Friday night,” the Army National Guard crew member said of flooding that has claimed 13 lives since early Saturday morning, Aug. 13, after 48 hours of record rainfall.
McCann’s aviation unit was flying over some of the hardest-hit areas of flooding that has destroyed or damaged at least 40,000 homes across 20 Louisiana parishes. An estimated 60 Southern Baptist churches have been destroyed or damaged along with the homes of 20 or more pastors – many without flood insurance.
McCann said the rescue missions took a toll on the helicopter’s pilots and crew spiritually, emotionally and physically in making 48 rescues, some in driving rain.
McCann asked for prayer for his unit but, more so, the people devastated by the flood.
“They have lost everything. They have lost their homes, their possessions, and their livelihood. But they haven’t lost hope. We are meeting some amazing people every day. So, please pray for God to strengthen these people.”
Baptist Message photo
Floodwater has destroyed or damaged an estimated 60 churches in Louisiana, including Crossgate Baptist in Robert (top left); French Corner Baptist in Ponchatoula (top right); Blood River Baptist in Albany (bottom left); and River Road Baptist in Hammond (bottom right).
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, recounted in the Baptist Message, “… we dealt with historic flooding in March across northern and western parts of our state. Volunteers from across Louisiana, as well as our Baptist brethren from a dozen or more state conventions, responded to the need. All told, volunteers spent 80 days assisting victims during the spring floods – and here we go again.”
But, Hankins noted, it’s also “déja vu all over again as God’s people rise up and meet the needs He’s put before us.”
Gevan Spinney, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, assured flood survivors that Baptists will be a key part of the recovery effort; “we are praying for you, and we are coming.”
“I’ve been up here at the convention building [in Alexandria] and I’ve seen the command center,” Spinney, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, told the Baptist Message. “They are putting things in place.”
Along the walls are maps of Louisiana, dry erase boards updated in real time and tables with laptops to assist in the operations.
On one whiteboard is a list of 22 Louisiana Baptist churches already serving as mobile feeding centers; hosting disaster relief volunteers; serving as shelters for evacuees; responding to mud-out requests for areas where waters have receded; distributing food, water, clothing and other essentials to sustain families displaced by the flooding; providing mobile shower units; and performing training for “walk-up” volunteers.
Another board shows the first wave of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams – from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Tennessee – who have come alongside Louisiana Baptists for the immediate crisis and long-term recovery response.
There are numbers listed for the several points of contact with the North American Mission Board which is helping coordinate assistance across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
And there is a list of Louisiana Baptist churches and pastors’ homes damaged in the flood and needing immediate assistance.
Information about the convention’s relief initiatives, as well as a link for providing financial assistance, can be accessed at LouisianaBaptists.org/DisasterRelief or the Baptist Message website, BaptistMessage.com.
A basic guide for mud-out work has been posted by the Message at BaptistMessage.com/basic-mudout-guide-louisiana-homeowners.
A number of disaster relief training sessions have been scheduled by churches as well as one for Louisiana State University students Aug. 20 led by Steve Masters, campus director of the LSU Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
“The greatest needs in a lot of the homes are spiritual needs,” Spinney added. “And I want to encourage you to use this opportunity to win souls. … You don’t need a passport for this mission trip.”
John Hebert, the Louisiana convention’s missions director, said it is “an opportunity to restore lives” – “but also to win souls.” He urged prayer that “the lost will see Christ in us and allow us to share the gospel with them.”
Regarding volunteers, Hebert said, “In situations like this, we need a lot of warm bodies and we are prepared to qualify ‘walk-ups’ to serve on a disaster relief team with brief standardized training on-site. Then we pair them up with a certified volunteer to ensure safety and efficiency,” he said. Some worksites will be able to outfit workers, but he urged volunteers to come prepared to be self-sufficient with work gloves and boots and such, but that meals would be provided.
Ron Thompson, director of missions for District Eight Baptist Convention, a group of five associations in the state, told the Message, “I don’t think it really sinks in how bad this is, until you get here.
“See it. Smell it. Feel it. Hear the National Guard helicopters or see the National Guard caravans,” Thompson said. “Then it sinks in.”
At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), which was devastated by Katrina in 2005, the student services staff is working to identify students and other members of the seminary family affected in various ways by the flooding in south Louisiana.
“The three best ways to help,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said, “are to volunteer to work on an SBC disaster relief team, donate gifts of cash to those helping the affected and those affected, or donate Walmart gift cards to families affected. These are the things that helped us the most after Hurricane Katrina.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Will Hall, Philip Timothy and Brian Blackwell of the Baptist Message, baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Gary Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)