MOULTRIE — First Baptist Church here and Georgia Baptist Conference Center at Norman Park are preparing to welcome Hurricane Matthews refugees today as the massive storm closes in on the Georgia coastline.
The Savannah Baptist Association closed its offices today to give staff adequate time to prepare for the possible category 4 or 5 storm onslaught as residents east of the I-95 Corridor were strongly urged to evacuate, said Associational Missionary Buddy Wasson. Churches in the area are so close to the storm’s path they are not accepting refugees; rather, members are deciding whether to ride out the storm or evacuate to higher ground.
Mandatory evacuation orders have been given for 1.5 million residents in Florida, as well as Georgia and the Carolinas.
Wayne Woods, pastor of First Baptist Church of Moultrie, said his congregation is expecting a bus load of 100 refugees from the St. Mary’s area any moment. Last night, following the Wednesday night use of the fellowship hall, church members brought out cots and transformed the room into a large sleeping area.
Fellowship hall transformed into sleeping area
Woods, who was returning from preaching a revival in Greenville, S.C., spoke highly of his congregation for pitching in during his absence and assembling the cots. In addition to the fellowship hall, the youth area – known at The Gap – and some Sunday School rooms will be pressed into service if needed.
The church also donated 20 cots to Magnolia Manor, a local senior adult community who was expecting evacuees from a sister facility closer to the coast.
“We have worked with the American Red Cross for quite some time but have not actually provided housing in about a decade. We just never got the call but we are always ready to serve when needed,” Woods noted.
Church Administrator Paula Neely said the community response has been very positive. “Folks have donated food and other items that may be in short supply. One woman even dropped off a therapy cat,” she said.
Church Secretary Barbara Stripling said she has fielded numerous calls from individuals inquiring about emergency shelter if they found themselves in need. “I just returned from the fellowship hall and it was amazing to see its quick transformation with all the cots lined up so perfectly.”
Woods said it is “a privilege to have personally been part of a clean up and recovery crew on a couple of occasions in Thailand and the Gulf Coast when I served in Alabama. Disaster relief ministry is a wonderful way to show the compassion that Christ has for hurting people. Compassion without the gospel is not biblically motivated but we want to always be ready with a gospel witness as the opportunity presents itself.”
Norman Park housing 175, ready for 500 total
Norman Park Guest Services Director David Denis said the South Georgia facility accommodated 175 refugees from Jacksonville, FL who arrived at 1 a.m. this morning. Local police and firefighters helped unload the 5 busses and move the individuals into their rooms. Fender Hall and McCall Hall are the two buildings which are currently being used but the conference center is preparing to house up to 500 in the next few hours.
Denis said the Georgia Welcome Center at the state line is directing refugees to the facility as they inquire about housing assistance.
Georgia Baptist Mission Board Disaster Relief Coordinator Stuart Lang said feeding team members are enroute to Norman Park to help prepare meals in the dining hall.
“At this point we’re just waiting to hear from where the Red Cross would like our assistance. We expect the big push to occur between 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday as the storm moves up the Georgia coast,” he said.