After Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, our feeding team left Virginia on September 12 to head south, not knowing where exactly they would go. The next morning, they awoke to an invitation to set up in Palm Coast, Florida.
This region had been affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and when Irma swept through, FBC Palm Coast knew what to do. So when our team arrived, we weren’t there to take over. We were there to join them.
The church was with us lock-step, every meal, every day, for two weeks, in their community.
Rewind a few weeks to the end of August. Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday, August 25, between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, and just 2 days later on Sunday, Pastor Steve called our Operations Center.
Disaster response, like anything we do on mission, isn’t only about where we go. It’s also just as much about who goes. Pastor Jeff Kinder of Rosedale Baptist in the BGAV’s Southwest Region has led his church’s growing involvement in disaster response:
One year ago at the BGAV Annual Meeting, we started an incredible journey with Texas Baptist Chaplaincy to relaunch our Disaster Crisis Care Chaplaincy team, and this August we trained 14 new chaplains.
Within weeks, after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, we had the tremendous opportunity to mobilize many of these team members to Texas and Florida, to hear the stories first-hand and offer support to individuals. What had been hypothetical situations became real-life experiences, like these two stories Kristen Curtis, Volunteer Coordinator, experienced:
That first morning in Liberty, we went to the local shelter. As we were walking out, there was a circle of people sitting around a coffee-can-turned-ashtray smoking. I made eye contact with the man sitting closest to me, and we struck up a conversation. He had just finally moved into a “real” house, and moved everything he owned into the garage of this rental. It was a rental, but it was his—a stick-built, solid not-travel-trailer home and then this flood happened and he lost everything. His landlord had already told him that they weren’t planning to repair or rebuild the house. Everything he had stored in the garage was destroyed by floodwaters. His car was damaged beyond repair. And he had no insurance.
I didn’t have any solutions for him, but I could listen. And when it was time for me to go, I asked if I could pray with him and he said, “I was hoping that you would.” After we prayed, he gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for listening. I hadn’t shared my story with anybody yet. You know, everybody in here has a story like that. I didn’t want to burden them with mine.”
Later that afternoon, I was back at the church when a woman walked in. She had lost her home in the flood, and her special needs child could not handle the close quarters of a shelter, so they had been sleeping in their car for a week. She was desperate for help — sleep, a meal, gas money. She was waiting for a relief check from another organization, but her information had been mistyped, so it was delayed. She needed help beyond the scope of what we could offer, but we could walk with her through the process. Phone call after phone call, she relayed her situation again and again to relief workers. We found a way to get a hot meal for dinner, and she had a bed in a local hotel for the night.
The next day, she came in a little brighter. We started working the phones again, at one point being passed off from one hotline to another to another, which pointed us back to the original 1-800 number. At this point, my friend laughed at the absurdity of it all. What a small victory! This woman who could not stop crying the day before had just hit yet another bureaucratic roadblock, and instead of giving up, defeated, she laughed.
Two days later, she had continued making the phone calls on her own to push forward on her path to recovery.
What had we accomplished? We didn’t feed her, we didn’t clothe her, we didn’t replace her house, we didn’t get her a place to sleep. We walked with her in this moment of tremendous need. We listened to her. We cried with her. We prayed with her. And we advocated for her.
The stories go on. Kristen and our chaplains, our assessors, our host churches, and every volunteer who has served has a story of how they have seen God at work in the midst of the storm.
So for us, we celebrate and remember all God has done and give thanks for our Virginia Baptist family. We prepare for the next storm so when it comes, we will be ready to respond. We will be ready to meet these human needs.
And we will be ready to do more together than any of us could do on our own.