BRUNSWICK — Georgia Baptist disaster relief units are scaling back on their mass feeding ministry following the landfall of Hurricane Matthew and are moving toward feeding volunteers serving in the area.
State Missionary Stuart Lang, who coordinates the ministry for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said the restoration of power in the affected coastal counties is allowing more residents to provide their own meals. That leaves the feeding units to serve hot food to disaster relief and other emergency personnel working in the field.
The Mission Board’s disaster relief ministry will continue to be focused on hardest-hit Brunswick which took the full force of the Category 4 storm when it made landfall early Friday morning. By the time it hit Savannah just an hour up the coast by Interstate 95, the storm had decreased to a Category 2.
“We have assessors on the ground now determining where best we can send chainsaw crews,” Lang added.
Primary damage is from high winds, fallen trees
“I expected to see far more devastating flooding in the area than what occurred. While there is certainly a lot of standing water, it is nothing compared to what South Carolina experienced. We are dealing more with wind damage to fallen trees and structures.”
Lang added that the current deployment of 45 volunteers – which will increase as the chainsaw crews move in – is the first major response in Georgia this year and the first since the Augusta ice storm of 2014. Last year was a relatively calm year for weather-related emergencies.
“We have had small responses in the state but nothing on this scale,” he stated.
As of this morning (Oct. 14), Unit 11-F from Stone Mountain Baptist Association is serving in Brunswick and Unit 2-F out of Hephzibah-Kilpatrick Baptist Association from Waynesboro is feeding out of First Baptist Church of Richmond Hill. Unit 1-F from Rehoboth Baptist Association from Thomson, which had been operating out of First Baptist Church of Hinesville, returned home on Wednesday (Oct. 12).
Tennessee Baptists are supplementing the Georgia effort by ministering out of Southside Baptist Church in Savannah’s midtown.
Relatively mild year for disaster relief response in state
While Georgia has been spared from weather-related disasters this year – commonly spring tornados and heavy flooding – the state convention’s disaster relief teams have only been called out twice. In April a team was dispatched to a small tornado in Warner Robins and in April responded to a windstorm in Cedartown.
But the Convention did have a larger presence in southeastern states. From December 2015 through late
January 2016 and again in March 2016, teams served in the Louisiana floods while Georgia Baptists donated more than 1,500 Buckets of Care to help residents clean out their homes. More than 155,000 residences and 70 Southern Baptist churches in 20 parishes received damage.
In July teams were dispatched to West Virginia floods and in August teams returned to Louisiana flooding areas.
Lang said the ministry is important because the volunteers “get to help people at a real point of need in their lives. We know that such traumatic events soften the hearts of individuals and open their minds to hearing the love of Jesus and the gospel message.
“When you put a loving service together – like helping someone clean out mud from their home or trees from their roof – and link that with a faith message, it is a good recipe for Kingdom work.”
Evacuee thanks Georgia Baptists for their hospitality
Dianne Vergos from Jacksonville, FL, could not agree more with the generosity and hospitality she and other evacuees experience from Georgia Baptists.
She and a friend had driven for three hours without finding any lodging options and was told the only available rooms were in Alabama or north of Atlanta. They stopped in Homerville for a break and discovered that First Baptist, along with others, were opening shelters.
“There we were met with warm hospitality, given a Sunday School room with cots, pillows and blankets. About 35 more people arrived and we were all very relieved to have found shelter,” she told The Index.
Vergos, only half joking, said she and her friend were resigned to having to sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot if no other options presented themselves.
“The staff of First Baptist were always available, friendly, welcoming and gracious. They even set up a large screen TV so we could watch the hurricane on the Weather Channel; there were plenty of games and books to keep everyone occupied. Cornerstone and New Vision Church took in the overflow after First Baptist was filled and Trinity Baptist and United Methodist were also available.
“Needless to say, no one required payment and we were overcome by their love and kindness. They kept thanking us for coming and it was so appreciated,” she said.