BARRE, Vt. – In flood-ravaged Vermont, chances to share the gospel
can come in unexpected ways – including suspected looters.
Phill Steadman, pastor of Capstone Baptist Church in North Bennington, was
helping clean a house after Hurricane Irene’s remnants deluged the state when
he caught a man apparently attempting to loot the property.
“Before the conversation was over, I’d had an opportunity to share the gospel
with this guy,” Steadman said.
The man recounted to Steadman that he once was in a coma after a car accident
and had a dream of an old man looking through a book. The suspected looter didn’t
know what the dream meant.
“I told him it was the Book of the Lamb, and I wanted to know if his name was
in there,” Steadman said. “So it was a great opening to be able to share the gospel
with him. He also stopped looting the house.”
As Baptists like Steadman and Capstone Baptist’s members continue to minister
in word and deed, the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief effort in
Vermont is slated to stand down Oct. 15. After that, any remaining work will be
turned over to local churches and Vermont’s chapter of VOAD (Volunteer Organizations
Active in Disasters), an association of organizations that do volunteer work.
With a backlog of houses to be cleansed of mold and a limited number of
volunteers, Terry Dorsett, director of missions for the Green Mountain Baptist
Association, is grateful for every Southern Baptist Disaster Relief vehicle he
sees on Vermont’s roads. But he also has a plea for Southern Baptists around
“This is a pivotal moment in Vermont Baptist history. Don’t fail us now.”
Larry Koch, commander at the Southern Baptist command center at Resurrection
Baptist Church in Mont Pelier, said the list of mud-out jobs in Vermont ready
for work is more than the limited number of volunteers can handle in just a few
weeks. In any case, he doesn’t have room to house enough people to finish the
“It’s very unlikely that we will clean the slate,” he said, although he hopes a
potential large volunteer crew of Liberty University students from Virginia may
Mud-out jobs to cleanse flooded houses of toxic mold spores can be grueling
tasks. After dragging everything out of affected areas of the house and
shoveling out the remaining mud, the crew must tear out all paneling, sheet
rock, insulation – anything that can hold water and thus mold – up to a foot
above the flood’s water line. Usually the floors go too.
Next comes a power
wash, followed by crews treating everything with a bleach solution that kills
mold. Finally, a crew has to go back and rebuild the part of the house that was
All this happens while the homeowner’s belongings – their whole lives – sit out
on the lawn.
“So you’ve got to oftentimes sit down with them and go through with them the
things that can be kept and cleaned and the things that need to be thrown away,”
said Bruce James, who serves as the evangelism and men’s ministry director for
the Baptist Convention of New England and currently directs disaster relief for
the convention. “For some people, that’s extremely difficult and heartbreaking….”
Homeowners who have insurance can pay for the mud-out work to be done, but
those who don’t have it rely on volunteers like Vermont Baptists and Southern
Baptists from other parts of the country.
“That’s the challenge,” Dorsett said. “As the urgency (of the situation) wanes,
the teams wane as well, and the long-term effect of this is going to take us
another two or three months before we’re really done with this. And the short
attention span of the American public will have moved on before the problem’s
actually all fixed.”
In the meantime, local church members and Southern Baptist volunteers are
working every day to reach out with both physical aid and hope in Christ.
People who were once told to grab a shovel and go help now are being trained more
thoroughly, and independent-minded Vermonters are opening their homes to
Vermont Baptists offering assistance.
“We’ve been able to pray with virtually everyone we’ve worked with,” Steadman
said. “We’ve had folks who have been coming to church since the hurricane that
we would have never met any other way.”
Steadman asks Southern Baptists to keep in mind the ripple effects of current
disaster relief efforts: People who otherwise might have never been exposed to
the gospel are now hearing it, and long-term relationships are being developed.
“So somebody may come and spend a week or two weeks on a disaster relief trip
or on a short-term mission trip,” the Vermont pastor said, “but the
implications can be eternal.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer based in Houston.)