As noted by Tim Buehner of the Baptist Convention of New England, “All the disaster relief efforts, all the work of the volunteers, gave the people of New England a picture of what Southern Baptists are about and what we are capable of providing in response to needs. In New England that is enormous.”
Buehner said New England’s weather began in an average fashion in 2011, but that was obliterated by back-to-back hurricanes during the summer.
“We were involved in responding to local flooding around Lake Champlain in the spring. We are used to spring flooding and usually handle those with our volunteers. Last year the flooding was heavy and the response had used most of our leadership and volunteers.
“Then Irene hit,” said Buehner, the convention’s assistant disaster relief director.
Following record flooding from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, a destructive tornado struck Massachusetts. Next came Hurricane Lee and more flooding. It overwhelmed the volunteers and resources of the six-state convention.
Baptist disaster relief volunteer Julie McClure of Corbin, Ky., digs out flooring ruined by Hurricane Irene flooding in Northfield, Vt., last summer. Baptist workers in New England said the efforts of volunteers “changed the perception of people about Southern Baptists.”
“An EF-3 tornado (winds up to 165 mile per hour) in Massachusetts that travels for 38 miles is pretty dramatic for us. The year was record-breaking on every level for what we encountered,” Buehner said.
“But through it all, I had to sit back and marvel at what God accomplished through trained incident commanders and volunteers. It was incredible.
“The responses went as well as they possibly could,” he noted. “They were extremely challenging but our leaders and volunteers did an excellent job.”
That praise extended to incident commanders and other volunteers who came from other states when New England issued a call for help, encompassing manpower from Canada, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
“We can’t thank them enough,” Buehner said.
Buehner saw firsthand the importance of lending a listening ear as well as a wet-dry vac.
“I encountered one man who was scraping the floor of his badly flooded home. Everything his family had was in the home,” Buehner recounted. “They were planning to move in shortly before the floods hit. He was attempting to save his kitchen flooring and cabinets. Over the course of almost two hours I was able to help him understand that the only way the house could be restored was to strip it. Over that time he moved from despair to hope because I was able to spend time with him and share why we were there helping.”
Another victim was stranded when her driveway was washed out and she could not get off her property. “When we arrived she was panic-stricken,” Buehner said. “We were able to share the peace of God with her and calm her down. Eventually we were able to help restore her driveway and reconnected her with a church. She was so moved that we cared enough to show up and then knew how to help her.”
The responses, concentrated in the Montpelier and Bennington, Vt., areas, also uncovered improvements needed in the convention’s disaster relief readiness, Buehner said. The convention is addressing those through training and enhanced response capabilities. Buehner said new training models are being developed to help rapidly deploy trained volunteers and improve safety concerns in all areas of DR response. Beyond the logistics, it changed some minds.
“It changed the perception of people about Southern Baptists,” Buehner said. “Our reputation with the emergency management community, with town managers, it raised their perception of who we are and what we can do in response to disasters. It helped many of our church plants by allowing them to show their communities what their churches are about – loving people and serving people in the name of Christ. That has changed things here.”