ST. JOSEPH – Churches are coping with the flooded Missouri River using some creative solutions and an outreached hand to those in need.
The Watson Baptist Church now meets for worship at Pastor Tom Beutler’s home – outside when it’s dry and inside when it’s raining. Watson, the most northwestern town in Missouri, had a mandatory evacuation in mid-June and electrical power was shut off in anticipation of flooding. Flood waters have reached near the church and the Watson Community Outreach building which the congregation owns, but so far have not flooded it.
“It is a horrible thing, but I really think through prayer and deeper faith we’ll come through,” Beutler said.
Several members of the church, including Beutler’s own son and daughter, have been flooded out of their homes in the Missouri River bottom. They have found places to stay and stash their belongings among various friends and relatives. Beutler also pastors the Baptist church in nearby Hamburg, Iowa, where the flooding has been even more severe. The town built a new levee that has so far successfully sealed off the river from the town.
The unusual flood is the result of record-high levels on the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the river through a series of dams in northern states. Heavy snowmelt and rains in Montana caused the reservoirs to swell and the Corps is releasing the water at the rate of 160,000 cubic feet per second. As a result, the western swath of much of Atchison, Holt, Andrew and Buchanan counties in Missouri flooded.
Rick Sharp, pastor of Short Creek Baptist Church in Buchanan County, lives on the Kansas side of the river. When a voluntary evacuation order was issued, the bi-vocational minister and his family moved to the parsonage.
Though the rural church has not been flooded, one member’s home is under water as is the main road to the church building. But Sharp said the congregation is still mission-minded. Several evacuated families are living in campers and even tents along a stretch of road. Short Creek members are taking them food, mosquito spray, charcoal and ministering to them.
“It’s a tough situation when you don’t have income to rent another place and all your goods are piled on a trailer,” Sharp said.
One of the biggest challenges for the region has been the closing of Interstate 29 and bridges over the Missouri River – the only open bridges are in St. Joseph, Mo., and Omaha, Neb. Many people in Atchison County work in Nebraska, Beutler said, making it expensive and stressful to find a place to stay and being separated from family.
“You start to see it wear on people,” he said. “It is emotionally draining.”
Beutler said the church has been intent on reaching out to people. His wife Jenny takes meals to the National Guard soldiers manning the check points to keep people out of the flooded areas. Other women have started contributing food and money to the ministry.
“We have a good solid church family. That’s what makes our outreach work so well,” he said.
Watson Baptist is planning a benefit for flood victims at its outreach building when the waters go down. And that may be some time. The Corps expects the river to remain unnaturally high through August. That’s when the real work begins, Sharp said.
“Once the water goes down is when churches can do more good helping with the clean up,” he said.
SUSAN MIRES/contributing writer