Missouri Baptists provide hurricane relief
By Bob Baysinger
September 28, 2004
LAKE WALES, Fla. – The “greatness” of Missouri Baptists has been evident in the actions of Missourians who have traveled to Florida to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, according to one Florida sheriff’s chaplain.
“In the midst of tragedy we have seen the greatness of the people collectively known as Southern Baptists,” said Dean Emery, chaplain for the Florida Polk County Sheriff’s Department. “Words can never express our appreciation to all who were willing to come to our mission field and all who sent them.”
Gary Morrow, Missouri Baptist Convention disaster relief coordinator, said 25 Missourians were in Florida on Sept. 24 helping residents recover from the aftermath of three deadly hurricanes that have hit the state in recent weeks.
The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) feeding unit is stationed in Florida’s panhandle at DeFuniak Springs.
“We’ve served about 6,000 meals this week (Sept. 19-25),” Morrow said. “The shower trailer from Jefferson Association is also there with two volunteers. We have a chainsaw recovery team from the Poplar Bluff area as well as a team from the Joplin area working in the DeFuniak Springs and Pensacola areas.”
Emery said work by the Missouri Baptists “kept me going in the first days and weeks” of the hurricane onslaught.
“I had become very close to a chainsaw team from Chesney, S.C., that cleared my house and yard,” Emery said. “They had left for home, and I really thought that would be the end of our major efforts.
“I returned from the sheriff’s office and pulled into the church parking lot to find the Missouri Baptists with their vehicles and fresh spirit. My emotions were best summarized by the comments of many: ‘I can’t believe they came all this way to help us.’
“It was one of those moments that I sat in my car for a moment and cried. They worked tirelessly to help us get back on our feet so we could in turn help our neighbors.”
Missouri Baptist relief workers have been working with relief teams from 32 other state conventions and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to provide disaster relief in the south.
As of Sept. 23, the 3,080 Southern Baptist volunteers on site had prepared 295,140 meals and completed 442 recovery jobs.
Hurricane Ivan was the third major hurricane to hit the United States in less than a month. Emery said he and other Floridians were praying Sept. 23 that the newest hurricane threat, Jeanne, “skirts the coast and does not come ashore.”
Work performed by the Cane Creek Stoddard Baptist Association chainsaw unit caught the attention of a Lakeland, Fla., Ledger reporter on Aug. 27. The unit was still in Lake Wales, clearing debris and trees for victims of Hurricane Charley.
Amy Sowder, a Ledger correspondent, described the effort by the Missouri crew. She wrote:
“Nine men traveled a long distance at their own expense to Polk County to clear debris from the years of Hurricane Charley victims. They toil long hours under the hot summer sun for no pay. Their reward is intangible, but important to them.”
Sowder asked Greg Hunt, a member of the Cane Creek Stoddard team, why he traveled all the way to Florida to help.
“I do this because God has already blessed me,” Hunt replied.
The writer noted that Hunt was wearing a T-shirt bearing the inscription “Doers of the Word.’
The reporter had been with the Missourians the previous day and described it this way:
“On Thursday, Hunt and the other members of a Southern Baptist chain saw crew from Missouri cut their way through three massive, fallen and uprooted trees at the home of an elderly Hillcrest Heights couple, Ron and Pat Johnson.
“We can’t believe these people are coming from everywhere,” said Pat Johnson told the newspaper
Her husband, Ron, explained that half of the approximately 60 trees on their three-acre property were damaged, and 10 were knocked down by the Aug. 13 storm.
“When the storm was over, we could hardly see the lake because of the fallen trees,” Johnson said. “A tree trimming company estimated it would cost $5,000 to remove just one live oak with a circumference of 11 feet near the house.”
Emery, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, said the relief work is not without risks.
“We are ever mindful of the sacrifices of so many that came to our aid both from faith-based and secular organizations,” Emery said. “Many gave financially, some gave through hard labor and some gave their lives.
“In our county, two Federal Emergency Management Agency contract mosquito control workers died when their plane struck a tower which possibly was not lighted due to storm damage. And one brother from the ‘Christian Contractors’ died from injuries sustained in a fall while repairing a roof.”