KEANSBURG, N. J.– “Be flexible” is the mantra for Missouri and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers across the northeast as they continue serve victims dealing with the drawn-out effects of Super Storm Sandy.
The exceptionally strong storm claimed at least 88 lives in the United States, caused upwards of $55 billion in property damage and left millions without power across 15 states.
Officials initially asked for 600,000 hot meals a day, a move which sent every DR feeding unit east of the Rockies headed toward New England. However, many were turned away almost as soon as they arrived due to reduced needs and “personalities and politics.” Fifty-five volunteers from various Missouri Baptist Churches were among those that headed back home. Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) DR Director Dwain Carter said politics is always present after disaster, but it is a new and different experience than previous disasters Southern Baptists have responded to.
Despite the challenges and false starts, Carter plus several Missouri chainsaw and mud-out units and assessors stayed behind to help in the recovery effort.
Carter said the response has been different from the other hurricane response that seasoned many DR veterans.
“It’s cold and smelly,” Carter said. “Most of the time it’s late summer and in the south. When you’re on Long Island, you’ve got several million people and no place to park. We can go down a lot of the roads because they have seven-foot-tall bridges and our trailers won’t fit. It’s challenging.”
David Wells, pastor of Sandy Baptist Church in Hillsboro and his wife, Laura, just returned from Keansburg as DR volunteers. They said doing mud-out work offered a more personal way to minister to people.
“I’ve done DR trips before with feeding units and chainsaw, but doing mud-out you’re inside a home working with people and going through their belongings and pictures,” Laura said. “There was more openness than I’ve ever experienced. Lots of tears.”
“Kids were rolling down their windows and giving us thumbs up as they drove by,” David said.
Carter said all the Missouri DR volunteers should be home – at least temporarily – this week, but he expects more mud-out teams, chaplains and assessors to return after Thanksgiving.
“We’d like to see a big college student push over Christmas Break,” he said. “If they could give a week to come and do mud-out and clean up, that would be a big help.”
Students and trained DR volunteers can contact the MBC DR office at 573-636-0400.
Although there’s been a constant flux and a need to be flexible, Carter said God has opened doors for the gospel through their work.
“[The victims] have received us so well,” he said. “They’re so strong-willed and have never needed help in their lives. In Keansburg we’ve had people ask us about starting churches there so they can be a part of what they see us doing. That’s pretty exciting. All of the people have heard the gospel message and several people have gotten saved.”
To donate to MBC DR efforts or for more information, go to www.mobaptists.org/mbcdr.