MOREHOUSE – This is not about the devastating tornado that touched down May 22 in Joplin. This is about the massive flooding that occurred on the night of April 27 in Morehouse. On that night spring flooding along the Little River found its way into Morehouse. The flooding was accelerated by what the St. Louis Beacon called “record rains that overwhelmed the elaborate web of ditches, levees, and diversion channels that make up the Little River Drainage District.”
Cliff Satterwhite, director, South Carolina Disaster Relief, and administrative director, Camp McCall (a 50-year-old boys camp of the South Carolina Baptist Convention), said the Morehouse area took on 27 inches of rain in 10 days and 19 inches in two days.
According to Randy Conn, pastor, First Baptist Church, Morehouse, there are 415 homes in the town and 280 of those were flooded. Of the 280, 70 have been condemned and scheduled for demolition.
When the flooding occurred, Conn turned to Missouri Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, which issued a call for mud-out teams. South Carolina Baptists responded.
South Carolina Responds
Camp McCall is located in Pickens County, S.C. In its history, more than 110,000 boys have participated in a week of camping activities. The camp was the first and is the largest Royal Ambassador (RA) camp in the United States. It is the only RA camp accredited by the American Camp Association. Each summer, the camp employs 40 high school graduates and college students to serve as camp staff.
RAs is more than camp, however. It is Southern Baptists’ missions education and action organization for Baptist boys ages 6-18.
“Because (Royal Ambassadors) is about missions education, we think it’s important for our camp staff to have opportunity to go and be on mission,” Satterwhite said. “Over the year, I’d guess 32 of our 40 summer staffers participate in a mission trip. We’ve had teams go to Peru for 11 years and Nova Scotia for four. We have sent teams to South Dakota, Maine and Malawi in southeast Africa.”
A call came from Missouri.
Eddie Pettit, manager director at Camp McCall, took the call from Missouri Disaster Relief. Pettit, a leader in South Carolina Disaster Relief, asked for volunteers among the McCall staff and nine stepped forward. Then, Pettit called Jim Wilson, a general contractor by vocation and Disaster Relief and missions volunteer from Mt. Airy Church, Easley, S.C.
“Eddie called me on a Sunday and asked if I could take this team of young men to Missouri – in one week,” Wilson said. “I prayed about it all day. ‘How in the world could I be gone on such short notice with all I had to do here?’ But, I called him back that Sunday night and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ”
Pettit began Disaster Relief mud-out training for the McCall volunteers.
“Mud-out work is the hardest and nastiest Disaster Relief work,” Satterwhite said. “Often, you are working in flooded basements with water and sewage. You have to wear masks.”
On June 5 the team left for its one-week assignment in Morehouse.
“The schedule worked out perfectly,” Satterwhite said. “We were able to let these young men leave McCall because our numbers were off that week due to Vacation Bible School beginning in many of our churches.”
First Baptist Morehouse
By the time this second team of South Carolina volunteers arrived in Morehouse on June 5 other volunteers were already there. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was present along with volunteers from AmeriCorps and Hoopa Tribal Civilian Community Corps from northern California. The Beacon reported the volunteers were “hacking out rotted flooring and the bottom four feet of drywall, and scrubbing surfaces with bleach.” All Hands Volunteers, a non-profit disaster relief organization from Massachusetts, also had volunteers in the town.
The South Carolina Baptists joined the others at First Baptist Church Morehouse, which Conn said had become a staging and housing area for Disaster Relief efforts. About 30 volunteers came together at the church. It had been 41 days since the flooding.
“We’re a smaller (membership) Southern Baptist church, averaging 50 in Sunday School and about 65 in worship,” Conn said. “We are a small farming community, and there are no real activities here for children. There are a lot of single moms, and so many children come home from school to an empty home. Our church has stepped up to focus on children, youth, and adults. We open our gym on Tuesdays; we have Wednesday night activities; and we stay involved in our community. After the flooding, the town asked if our facilities could be used as a Disaster Relief shelter; that’s how we got involved.”
South Carolina’s Wilson said, “When we moved back to the Upstate from many years in Florida, I was familiar with Disaster Relief, but I had never wanted to get involved. As a general contractor, I wanted to be involved in missions that allowed me to do some different things – anything but construction or “hands on” work.
“But, Mt. Airy had a Disaster Relief chainsaw/rebuild team; and they were going to help with Katrina relief. They encouraged me to come along. I went to training and got hooked on it. Phyllis and I have also been very involved with the Disaster Relief medical team, and I went with Eddie (Pettit) as part of the assessment team in Haiti just after the earthquake there.”
Arriving at Morehouse, Wilson pulled his young men together and said, “This is our mission field right here in this church. We’re going to be sleeping with who we need to be talking with.”
The South Carolina team decided to have a nightly devotion in the center of all the volunteers. The young men – rising high school seniors to college freshmen – began inviting other volunteers to attend. Response was cool. Most, Wilson said, responded with a “no, thank you” to the invitation.
“I had this little puppet that I used for illustrations, and I pulled it out and started teaching,” Wilson said. “We all started laughing over the puppet. As we started laughing, the leader from FEMA came over and a couple of others did, too. That’s the way it started. It broke the ice. We mixed in with everyone, ate with them, and got to know the other volunteers.”
The devotions continued each night, circled in the middle of all the volunteers.
Sheldon approaches Nathan
In a written testimony, Camp McCall volunteer Nathan Bouchillon, of NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C. wrote, “The night of the first work day we had our devotion like we do every night (at camp). We invited everyone that was staying in the building to join us. Only two or three people outside of the church members of First Baptist Morehouse joined us. Sheldon (a volunteer from the Hoopa tribe) was one of those. I personally was hoping for more, but God had other plans for that night.
“After the devotion, at which I had shared my testimony, Sheldon approached me in the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth. He had two questions for me: How long had I been a Christian and did God speak to people in dreams? I shared with him a little bit of my testimony, and then told him that God had been using dreams to speak to people for several millennia. (I gave him) several examples. He was very pleased and relayed to me that he had decided to become a Christian several weeks earlier. He couldn’t find any loopholes in the Gospel and God had spoken to him twice through dreams, once many years before that he still couldn’t get out of his head. After years of him trying to ignore it, Sheldon was coming to Christ.”
Bouchillon said two nights later, after a game of Ultimate Frisbee with the Morehouse youth group, the McCall volunteers entered the church building to see Shelton meeting with Wilson and Conn. The conversation lasted about two hours.
“I was wondering just what they were talking about for so long, but when they stood up late that night (there were) big smiles on all three faces and tears in their eyes, we found out Sheldon had accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. We all welcomed him into the family with cheers and shouts.”
Conn wanted to baptize Sheldon, but knew the teams were leaving before Sunday so he filled the baptistry on Thursday evening and had a baptism service that night. About 20 attended the service, including a young girl who had attended some of the devotions and began a conversation with Wilson’s wife, Phyllis.
The Gospel Advances
After the baptism service, as everyone turned in for the night, Bouchillon wrote, “One of the other staffers motioned toward Sheldon’s bunk. He was sitting beside another of the Hoopa volunteers, Bible in hand, and sharing the Gospel. One thing many of us fail to realize is once we accept Christ, we aren’t finished. We were created on purpose, with a purpose, for a purpose, and that purpose includes sharing the Gospel. Romans 10: 14-15 says, ‘How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?’ We never know what we may encounter when Jesus calls us to go, but we are to be ambassadors for Christ wherever he leads us.”
“(The McCall volunteers) were a great bunch of young men, and I was so impressed with their spiritual maturity,” Conn said. They worked hard in the mud-out relief. As the last team in they received the worst of the worst assignments.”
“We had a 10-hour trip out there and back, and we meshed as a family,” Wilson said. “These are fine young men, who love the Lord and love serving him. They were such encouragers to so many people.”
DIANNE COCKRELL/Special to The Pathway