Washing piles of muddy clothes and cleaning bathrooms may not sound like the most glamorous missions project available, but it’s a labor of love for Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) volunteers from Robeson Baptist Association in Lumberton, NC.
Working behind the scenes at the Baptist Rebuild Center in Lumberton, women from several area churches regularly do laundry; put fresh mattress covers on rows of bunk beds; clean sinks, showers and commodes; sweep and mop floors; and sort and deliver donated food items.
The Rebuild Center, a ministry of North Carolina Baptists on Mission, is equipped to house and feed up to 200 volunteers from across the state and beyond. The volunteer teams continue to help area residents rebuild from two devastating hurricanes that hit the region: Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018.
“As the volunteers would come, we wanted it to be a clean, inviting, comfortable place for them,” explained Deborah Taylor, president of WMU of North Carolina. She noted that the volunteers typically work long hours removing moldy insulation; installing new wiring, plumbing and roofing; hanging drywall; and painting.
Taylor, whose husband Alan is the mission strategist for Robeson Baptist Association, contacted area churches and WMU groups about adopting the laundry and cleaning ministry.
“We saw that there were people who were trained a lot better than me in painting and pulling insulation out of houses and rebuilding those floors,” Taylor said. “But they still needed food, they still needed their clothes washed, especially after being out in the field all day and coming in with the mud. And so I called and asked our ladies, ‘How about if we do this?’ . . . I felt like that was the little bit that we could do.”
Ministry offers encouragement
That “little bit” has grown into a well-organized ministry that involves various WMU groups taking responsibility for laundry and cleaning duties on different days of each month. The rebuild teams put their dirty clothes in bags that the WMU volunteers collect. As they wash, dry, and fold the loads of laundry, they also attach thank you notes and Bible verses to the bags and pray for each of the workers.
“We knew that they were gone all day working,” Taylor pointed out. “It’s a joy to see when they come back in and pick up their clean laundry and read those Bible verses and be encouraged through that too.”
Amid all the projects the volunteers tackle at the Rebuild Center, “the laundry has kind of become our home,” Taylor said. “I believe that God has given each of us gifts and that we use those gifts at different times in different places.
“I’ve tried to help our youth and our ladies to see that when we’re washing those clothes, we may not know who José is, or who Jimmy is, or James, or where they have been,” she added, “but we know that they have been in touch with someone from our community, someone who had a need.”
Jay Baugham and his wife Ashley have served since spring 2019 as the site coordinators at the Baptist Rebuild Center in Lumberton. While they often host hundreds of volunteers each month, the coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced those numbers this year. Volunteers still are needed to help complete extensive repairs due to hurricane-related devastation ranging from roof damage to massive flooding.
As they coordinate logistics on behalf of volunteer teams, “one of the great partnerships that we have locally is the WMU,” Baugham affirmed. “They play a big, key role in how the Rebuild Center can actually run and operate. . . . They’re open and flexible to doing whatever is needed.
“Our focus here at the Rebuild Center is to house volunteers, churches, just really any organization that would want to come and work,” he explained. As workers are oriented and assigned to dozens of work sites throughout the area, “we get to see hands-on how God can work in these volunteers.”
Sharing the gospel is the main goal
Beyond the coordination and construction, Baugham emphasized that the ministry’s primary goal is sharing the gospel with the families they serve. Workers at each job site pray with the homeowners and pray for their house and community so that when the crew leaves, the family continues to feel the presence of God in their home, he said.
WMU photos by Pam and Trennis Henderson
1) Deborah Taylor, center, president of WMU of North Carolina leads a prayer time with volunteers at the Lumberton Rebuild Center. 2) Dirk Apt, Ed Coltrane and Bill Ammons install a shower for homeowner Betty Britt whose bathroom was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. 3) Staff and volunteers load USDA “Farmers to Families” produce boxes for churches and organizations to share with families in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen some families come to Christ just because of the volunteers that come down and pour into their lives and do what they need,” he reflected. “It’s just been amazing to see.”
Betty Britt was among the recipients of the Rebuild Center’s ministry as three volunteers worked to replace a damaged, leaky shower in her bathroom. “I had tried to do as much as I can on my own,” she noted, “but I could not put in a shower stall.”
Acknowledging that she “had given up hope” before she got a call from the Rebuild Center, Britt said, “It’s just wonderful to see the Lord working. There are so many people involved and you can see the Lord working in them. It’s just been such a blessing.”
Another major project the Baughams have coordinated through the Rebuild Center is distributing USDA “Farmers to Families” produce boxes. Each week, the center’s parking lot is abuzz with activity as staff and volunteers load hundreds of boxes of fresh produce into waiting trucks and vans. Area churches and organizations, in turn, distribute the fruit and vegetables to people in their communities who are stuck at home due to COVID restrictions or other limitations.
“It’s just amazing to be able to see the churches’ stories when they come back to us,” Baugham noted. He said each of the volunteers is able to pray with the recipient and ask if the church can assist with any other needs.
“It helps that church and that homeowner connect,” he said.
Involvement makes a spiritual impact
As ministry efforts from shower repairs to produce boxes to personal witnessing opportunities multiply across the hurricane-scarred region, WMU members have the satisfaction of knowing that their behind-the-scenes involvement is helping make a spiritual difference.
“You know, there’s no glory in cleaning bathrooms, but here it has actually been a glorious thing,” said Sara Lovett, a member of Robeson Association’s WMU leadership team. “It’s been a blessing that we could all come together and do this kind of work together to help others.”
Along with the laundry and cleaning ministry, WMU members also help coordinate an annual Christmas toy store for hundreds of needy children, and often deliver fresh milk and other donated items to senior citizens and an area children’s home.
Sandra Terry, assistant WMU director at Great Marsh Baptist Church in St. Pauls, noted that as volunteers visit with recipients, “we ask them if they need prayer, minister to them if we can, encourage them as much as we can. Sometimes just a smile helps in the long scheme of things.”
“I don’t think my life would be the same without WMU,” Deborah Taylor reflected. “WMU always wants people to be on mission – to be radically involved in the Great Commission.” Describing WMU’s ongoing partnership with the Lumberton Rebuild Center as “a natural fit,” she said their motivation is clear: “If we’re doing it for God and for His glory, we want it to be the best that it can be.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for the WMU).