Southern Baptists combat flooding, storm damage; volunteers still needed

By Brandon Elrod

GREENVILLE, Texas—Storms with strong, straight-line winds have wrought havoc in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the last two weeks, underscoring the severe weather events that have been occurring across the United States.

Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville, Texas received a direct hit from a wind gust.

“Two days ago, life was normal—whatever that is,” senior pastor Chet Haney said. “Now, we’re kind of in chaos, but God’s been moving, and we’ve been seeing a lot of blessings in the midst of this.”

Just before the storm hit Greenville Wednesday night (June 19), Haney and his staff sent an alert to their congregation that church activities were canceled for the evening.

“We were just about to go in there for our Wednesday night service,” Haney said. “The front quarter of the sanctuary was peeled off by the high wind. The whole altar area is basically exposed to the sunshine.

“Part of the roof that blew off landed on another part of our building and demolished some of our Sunday school space like a missile hit it.”

Highland Terrace Baptist Church suffered severe damage when a strong, straight-line gust of wind struck the church, tearing off the roof and sending it through another a part of the church building. Photo courtesy of Chet Haney.

Haney estimated that the area would have been filled with students just fifteen minutes later had they not closed the church. A local CBS affiliate reported that two teens showed up early and witnessed the roof collapsing.

“We specifically prayed for God to take authority over this storm and prevent loss of life, people getting hurt, and minimize the damage,” Haney said.

He reported that the storm missed an apartment complex and did not touch another residential area even though some of the hundred-year-old oak trees were “uprooted like weeds.”

In Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Baptist Men (TBM) have been providing help to residents dealing with storm damage.

“We are up to our eyeballs in chainsaw work right now,” said Dwain Carter, Southern Baptist disaster relief (SBDR) director for TBM. “We had, the last two Sundays in a row, pretty bad wind storms go through the city of Dallas. We’ve had about seven chainsaw teams working pretty much nonstop for the last two weeks.”

The winds that hit the area attained speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, Carter said, and cut a 30-mile-long path of destruction.

A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw crew with the Texas Baptist Men removes a downed tree from a home. Photo courtesy of Texas Baptist Men.

As flooding and other storms have devastated other parts of the U.S., TBM has sent teams to assist in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“We would be in bad trouble if it wasn’t for the amazing [Southern Baptist] volunteers that we have nationwide,” Carter said.

Over the last few months, the flood waters that filled Nebraska and Iowa have been making their way south, and now Arkansas, Oklahoma and Illinois are dealing with the blunt of rising rivers.

“To complicate matters, we had the flooding event,” said Randy Garrett, SBDR director for Arkansas Baptists. “It’s the worst one we’ve experienced in my lifetime. Then, Wednesday, we had straight-line winds come through Little Rock and southern Arkansas. Several thousand homes are still without power.”

As the waters have started receding, SBDR teams from Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee are currently cleaning out flooded homes, and chainsaw teams are clearing wind damaged communities of downed trees. Of 200 homes assessed by Arkansas SBDR, roughly 100 have been served so far.

“We’ve had a tremendous turnout,” Garrett said. “I’d estimate that we’ve had probably 500 volunteers come in so far,” but they could use more. He and his team have been conducting emergency flood training through local churches to get more people on the field to work with the trained SBDR volunteers.

In Oklahoma, a state of emergency has been declared in more than 20 of the state’s counties. Since their first storms hit April 30, SBDR has had a presence in 27 cities and towns in the state.

“We think there are probably close to 1,000 homeowners with 700 asking for help right now,” said Don Williams, SBDR director for Oklahoma Baptists. “We’ve helped about 250 of them so far. Southern Baptists have done at least a third of the work, if not more, in Oklahoma.”

Of those 250, half have been flood recovery jobs while the other half have been chainsaw work done following wind damage. SBDR volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) along with teams from Arizona, Utah, Idaho and California.

“We are glad to be in Oklahoma to serve to help Oklahomans and Oklahoma DR,” SBTC disaster relief director, Scottie Stice, told the Southern Baptist Texan.

“Southern Baptists rise to the occasion,” Williams added. “We’ve reported at least seven salvations so far. We’re here to bring physical help so we can speak spiritually into their lives.”

Illinois Baptists, like Oklahoma and Arkansas, are still calling for disaster relief volunteers as they combat flooding in their state. One town, Hardin, Ill., is situated on a peninsula between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and SBDR volunteers will be able to access the area via a ferry boat.

“We’ve got two locations in Moline [Ill.] and Hardin that will be starting work in the next couple of days,” said Illinois SBDR director, Butch Porter. “We appreciate the other states stepping up and being willing to help.”

SBDR teams from Kentucky and Pennsylvania/South Jersey are expected to arrive to assist the Illinois teams, and more volunteers are needed.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,


Published June 21, 2019