STONE MOUNTAIN — Pavement is supposed hold a lot of weight. We can all agree on that, right?
Nevertheless, the Georgia Baptist response to a call for water and other necessities broke that truism – and a patch of asphalt – Tuesday when the supporting leg of a tractor trailer loaded with supplies punched through a section of a parking lot. The trailer contained items gathered through numerous Baptist associations, funneled through Stone Mountain Baptist Association.
Larry Cheek, Stone Mountain associational missions strategist, said it mirrored the response he’s witnessed from his peers this week. Those calls for action began soon after the scope of Hurricane Michael’s destruction became evident.
Echoing Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief director Stuart Lang, Cheek noted how ongoing work in the Carolinas have stretched volunteers.
“People had been asking about disaster relief and how we could help,” said Cheek. “Our association’s feeding unit had been deployed to South Carolina and is now on standby for Bainbridge. However, Friday evening Stuart called me about the Lord putting the Bethel area on his heart.”
Bethel Baptist Association in southwest Georgia wasn’t as close to the pinnacle of Michael’s fury as, say, Bainbridge. However, the storm remained a hurricane well into the Peach State, destroying crops and structures far from the Gulf Coast.
At 7 p.m. on Oct. 10, the National Hurricane Center released an update of Michael’s position. Still packing sustained winds of 100 mph, the storm was approximately 30 miles north-northwest of Bainbridge and 35 miles west-southwest of Albany.
Towns like Blakely, Damascus, and Rowena were doing their best to hold their own.
Bethel Baptist Association and rural areas feel the storm’s aftermath differently. Small country roads blocked by trees may not be as high a priority for clearance as four-lane arteries. But to those residents, these are the lifelines for more supplies. Many people use well water, so no electricity to power a pump increases the urgency.
“Stuart asked me if I could call some other associations about getting water, flashlights, and batteries to those areas,” said Cheek.
God-called to give
Beginning last Saturday that word began to spread, with Stone Mountain Association serving as the main hub for collections. Associations like Atlanta Metro, Central, Appalachee, Chattahoochee, Rehoboth, and the North Central Area network responded.
Discover Point Church in Conyers asked its members for water on Sunday and ended up gathering three pallets’ worth. Fusion Church in Stone Mountain Association provided a truck-full as well. For transportation, First Conyers gave its trailer usually used for things like transporting luggage to camp. First Baptist Lithonia filled every seat and aisle on its 20-passenger bus with water.
Rockdale Baptist Church loaded a trailer too, but this one needed a truck to tow it. Cheek sent word out, saying “I believe God’s going to call out one of you” by 10 a.m. Monday for the job. Anthony King, a layman at Higher Level Worship Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, stepped up with a truck from the family towing business. King’s brother, Tyrone, serves as pastor of Higher Level Worship.
Cheek reported that Sunday’s haul went to Bainbridge, with Monday’s is going to Blakely. Tuesday’s trip also went to the Bainbridge area.
College students pitch in
With more water needing to be taken and no method by which to do it, Cheek contacted a friend who owned a trucking company. The friend donated the use of a 53-foot trailer that soon was filled with pallets of water.
But the asphalt beneath one support leg of the trailer didn’t hold up, sending the trailer to teeter dangerously near a ditch. Tony Gray, director for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry of Georgia State-Newton campus, and the BCM’s president, Isaiah White, were in the trailer when the leg went through the asphalt.
White and Gray had answered a call from Cheek for more help in loading water. They were joined by students Doran Johnson, who serves as discipleship chair for the BCM, and Rebekah French, missions chair.
“We were excited to be a small part of it,” said Gray. “It was a great response.”
Collegiate Ministries mobilizing
Gray added that a BCM mission team of students from Georgia State-Newton and Georgia Gwinnett College will depart for southwest Georgia after completing finals in December. The commitment to rebuild could already be seen in the actions of French. Days before, her nephew had been accidentally backed over and killed by his father driving a truck.
Still mourning, she volunteered to help load water for Michael survivors.
“Tuesdays are our busy days on campus,” said Gray, “but they wanted to be here to help. I’m proud of them.”
Cheek, already feeling the pressure of managing his association’s annual meeting that started today, agreed on how such crises bring out the best in people.
“This shows how quickly churches can work together and respond when given the opportunity,” he commented. In addition, so many items were donated – water, vehicles, trailers – that he only spent $39.57 on the effort. Even the company that provided the crane to upright the trailer, normally a $2,500 fee, waived the cost when they found out where it was going and why.
And for all its faults, the missionary gave credit to social media in getting the word out.
“It tells the power of how you can tell others. The owner of the car lot where we’ve had our staging area put in on his business’s Facebook page. That had over 1,000 views in hours.
“I broadcasted on Facebook Live when our team went to Bainbridge Sunday morning on the association page. That also got 1,000 views.”