METROPOLIS, Ill. — A Southern Illinois pastor sees the
record flooding along the Mississippi River as an unprecedented chance to
impact his community with the gospel.
“We won’t have an opportunity like this to minister to our friends and
neighbors for another 500 years,” Joe Buchanan, pastor of First Baptist Church
in Metropolis, said May 8. “We must be prepared spiritually and physically to
minister to hurting people in Jesus’ name.”
Buchanan said the upcoming week’s deacons meeting would have one agenda item: “Find
someone who needs help, and help them.”
The pastor was speaking to three Southern Baptist congregations worshipping
together — First Baptist Metropolis; Eastland Baptist Church in Metropolis,
whose building was surrounded by floodwaters, and First Baptist Church in
Brookport, a community under voluntary evacuation orders.
“Thousands of people are in desperate need. Many have lost everything they own,
their homes and even their livelihoods. It’s time for the church of Jesus
Christ to step up,” Buchanan said.
After nearly two weeks of record flooding in Southern Illinois, waters of the
Ohio and Mississippi Rivers have started to recede, leaving mud and debris
throughout communities, homes and churches.
At least eight Illinois Baptist
State Association churches in four regional associations have sustained flood
First Southern Baptist Church in Cairo, under a mandatory evacuation order,
hasn’t experienced water damage but hasn’t held worship services for two weeks.
Roger Ferrell, director of missions for the Clear Creek Baptist Association,
was eager to get back to the church to finish work on a mission center that
will house volunteer mission teams.
“We hope to have shower facilities and bunk bed accommodations ready at First
Cairo by the first of June for mission groups to use as their hub as they
minister in our association,” Ferrell told the Illinois Baptist. “We have many,
many people who will be cleaning up for a long time, and we need mission teams
to come help us this summer.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew a hole in a levee along the Mississippi
River May 2 to save Cairo from flooding. The town sits at the confluence of the
Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and the entire town remains under evacuation
Waldo Baptist Church, east of Metropolis, was serving as a Red Cross shelter
for more than 30 people, most of whom lived in a mobile home park that was
completely under water.
“We’re providing shelter, food and spiritual support for people who aren’t
accustomed to much,” Susan Ramage, a Waldo volunteer, said. “One little boy
said one of the meals was like Thanksgiving or Christmas because we were
serving sliced ham.”
A disaster relief chaplain from Third Baptist Church in Marion, Ill., was
leading children at the shelter to make witnessing necklaces. When she
finished, a mother who had been listening from across the gymnasium asked her
how she could be saved. She led the woman to make a profession of faith in
Hard-hit Clear Creek and Union Baptist Associations have established assistance
funds that will be used to minister to their churches and members as well as
minister to their flooded communities. For contact information, go to IBSA.org.
Down river in Tennessee, more than 100 homes were flooded and evacuated in Lake
County, according to Jason Allison, chief deputy of the sheriff’s department
and pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church in Tiptonville.
Flooding also was reported in Dyer and Lauderdale counties in Tennessee,
including 75 homes and businesses in Dyersburg.
The Mississippi River in Tiptonville crested at 48.4 feet May 8, a foot higher
than during the 1937 flood, Allison said, adding that the high mark was three
feet less than predicted.
Waters have dropped in some places but may still rise
in other areas and could remain for several weeks.
“It’s answered prayer,” Allison said of the lower than expected crest. “This is
what we were praying for.”
In response to the disaster, members of Lakeview Baptist started serving meals and
operating as a shelter April 25. The church has served as many as 300 meals a
day to flood victims and workers including law enforcement personnel. The
church also housed several people who stayed overnight, Allison said.
Needs have declined as flood victims have evacuated to live with family and
friends away from the area and to a high school in Tiptonville being operated
as a shelter by the Red Cross, Allison said.
In addition to providing meals, church members have placed sandbags and helped
residents pack up household items.
Jerry Leggett, associate pastor at Second Baptist Church in Union City, said he
has lived there all of his life and was shocked at the flooding despite the
construction of many levees over the years since the flood of 1937.
The educational space and fellowship hall of New Mitchell Grove Baptist Church
in Halls was flooded. The parking lot of Southside Baptist Church in Dyersburg
was flooded, though the church building was safe. The congregation met at the
Municipal Courthouse in Dyersburg May 8.
Allison, the Tiptonville pastor, predicted the crisis will continue for a
couple of weeks. He asked Tennessee Baptists for continued prayers and thanked
them and others who have helped.
“We’re a small, tight-knit community here,” he said, adding that the help “means
so much to us here.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — King is editor of the Illinois Baptist, newsjournal of the
Illinois State Baptist Association; Bushey is news editor of the Baptist and
Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)
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