The daunting challenge of restoring flood-damaged homes continues to face many families around Missouri and Illinois after widespread flooding wreaked havoc in late December and early January.
“It’s bigger than people realize,” said Joe Banderman, leader of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s collegiate relief team. “Unless you’re here, it’s hard to get an idea of the scope of the flooding.”
Randy Ewart keeps track of job requests and projects at the Disaster Relief mobile command center set up in Ellisville, Mo.
Caused by a month of heavy rain, flooding across Missouri and Illinois killed at least two dozen people, affected roughly 5,000 homes and temporarily closed portions of Interstate 44 and Interstate 70. In some areas along the Mississippi, floodwaters rose to 48.9 feet, surpassing the 1993 record by nearly half a foot.
Dwain Carter, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s disaster relief (DR) director, hopes Southern Baptists can continue to help families by deploying volunteer teams to assist in flood recovery, following the departure of DR teams in late January who prepared meals and engaged in various facets of outreach to flood victims.
Most likely, no homes will need to be rebuilt from the ground up, Carter said, but many people will need help with such projects as putting up new drywall or laying carpet.
The only factor that keeps Carter from moving forward is the funding required for such a deployment, which could run between $250,000 and $500,000. Otherwise, Carter is eager to deploy volunteer teams to help families rebuild their lives – and, he hopes, help them find new life in Christ.
The flooding is one of Missouri’s largest disasters, Carter said, noting how many families it affected across such a wide expanse of territory. But local churches and disaster relief teams from across Missouri – and soon flowing in from 20 other state conventions – responded quickly.
Members of Genesis Church suit up to remove flood-damaged items from homes after the historic floods the final week of 2015. Nearly 5,000 homes state-wide were affected.
Mike Hubbard, pastor of Genesis Church in the hard-hit St. Louis suburb of Eureka, told of members from the church helping local residents after the rains stopped.
They helped one woman remove everything from her basement before a recovery team was slated to arrive the next day. “She told us they were going to sanitize her basement, cut out drywall that was affected and get her house on the road to recovery,” he recounted.
“So I asked her who she had doing the work. Her eyes filled with tears as she said the group is called ‘Disaster Relief.’ I immediately knew what was happening.” Southern Baptist volunteers were “headed to our town to serve. The flood left Eureka on Friday. We were there Sunday and they had already been there to schedule her for Monday.”
Missouri Baptist churches were eager to support disaster relief teams as they provided hope for those affected by the floods. Sterling Acres in Arnold, Central Baptist in Eureka and First Baptist in Ellisville opened their doors to house and support disaster relief teams. Because of a previous partnership with the Red Cross, First Baptist in Arnold immediately opened its doors to provide shelter to hundreds of people displaced by the floods.
During a full month of relief work, Baptist volunteers in Missouri totaled 2,777 volunteer days, prepared 20,410 meals and provided various other services hundreds of times – cleaning houses, spraying homes to prevent mold, removing debris, washing people’s laundry and giving them a place to take a shower.
Recovery has been a cooperative effort, with churches like Starling Road Baptist hosting Disaster Relief volunteers.
They also handed out 100 teddy bears to children – and to at least one adult, volunteer disaster relief chaplain Rhonda Myers, a licensed professional counselor from Southridge Baptist Church in Jefferson City, reported.
“One woman had recently lost a child, and we gave her a teddy bear,” Myers said. “That was the comfort she needed that day.”
Disaster relief workers made 714 ministry contacts and 607 chaplaincy contacts, distributed 197 Bibles and 546 tracts, verbally presented the gospel 111 times and led 19 people to faith in Christ.
Cheryl Mayfield, a volunteer from First Baptist Church in Viburnum, Mo., recounted one of the encounters in Arnold.
“The first day we worked with one couple. She was distraught and her husband was angry,” Mayfield said. “But after we worked so hard on their house, we saw his mood change.”
Mayfield noticed this transformation most clearly when volunteers gathered to pray for the couple after completing their work on the house.
“All the members of the team always sign a Bible,” Mayfield said, “and we gather to pray for the homeowners. When we met with this couple, he just bawled and said, ‘I want you to know that I prayed for help, and God sent you.’“
Missouri flood waters within inches of the floor of Starling Road Baptist Church.
Debbie Porter, a member of First Baptist Church in Galatia, Ill., shared how she and 12 other Illinois Baptist disaster relief volunteers shared hope with the people of Arnold after the flood. One couple, she said, “was tormented with questions about why God did this to them.”
“Also, other groups had already visited them and left much of the work unfinished,” Porter said, according to the Illinois Baptist news journal. “They thought we would be there for an hour and do the same, but we stayed until the job was done – nearly 24 hours of work.”
While Porter and her team worked in Missouri, other Illinois disaster relief teams responded to floods in southwest Illinois along the Mississippi River as well as in the central Illinois town of Kincaid, where nearly 40 homes were damaged. Nevertheless, volunteers from Illinois still came to bring help and hope to Missourians.
Rex Alexander, director for the Illinois Baptist State Association’s disaster relief ministry, expressed his gratitude for volunteers like Porter who served in “bitter-cold” conditions, dealing with a disaster that usually takes place in warmer months.
“It made us all proud of our volunteers,” Alexander said.
Carter, of the Missouri convention, said the sacrificial service of disaster relief volunteers from 21 state conventions painted a “perfect picture” of Southern Baptist cooperation. “We talk about cooperative giving a lot, but this was a cooperative effort to overcome a disaster,” he said.
“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” he added, “is a cooperation of thousands of Southern Baptists to bring hope, help and healing while transforming lives and communities through the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is associate editor for The Pathway at mbcpathway.com, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Contributing to this report were Pathway staff writer Brian Koonc and contributing writer Vicki Stamps and the staff of the Illinois Baptist newsjournal at ibonline.ibsa.org.)