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No hesitation: Church agencies quick to help

Christians shape Gulf Coast relief efforts, stress need for ongoing support

By Tamie Ross
The Christian Chronicle

September 15, 2005

Christians shape Gulf Coast relief efforts, stress need for ongoing support

Rapha International, a church of Christ medical mission agency, normally doesn’t do domestic relief work.
But Hurricane Katrina changed that. Leaders of the Fort Worth, Texas-based ministry saw such immense need unfolding just a few hundred miles away that they couldn’t help but act.
Within days, a team of physicians and a massive shipment of medical aid were headed to the Gulf Coast. Doctors Carl Couch, Cliff Fullerton and David Bragg met with an advance team in Baton Rouge, La. And on Sept. 10, their first day in a makeshift clinic near Slidell, La., the three men saw 100 patients.
“They told us tales that would horrify anyone,” Couch said. “They had, of course, lost everything.”
Couch said one particularly graphic story involved a man and his invalid wife, who were forced from their home – and later, attic – by rising floodwaters. They retreated to the roof, but when she lost control, the man quickly tied her to a tree instead. She remained there for 24 hours, until their rescue.
Faith-based agencies fanned out along the hardest-hit areas, working on smaller, yet effective scales to help.
More than $4.7 million in donations may not sound small to some, but it’s still not enough, said Joe Dudney, executive director and vice president for Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort, based in Nashville, Tenn.
“We can use every dollar folks send us, and we can make it worth three times as much because of our buying power and the relationships we have,” Dudney said.
His organization is filling requests for dehumidifiers — crucial for those trying to dry out flooded homes. Soon, new appliances will make their way to homes whose contents were strewn across neighborhood streets.
Dudney said Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath represent by far the biggest event his organization has encountered. It is made manageable by the hundreds of volunteers and thousands of givers who offer support, he said.
Other organizations are meeting different needs. The lawn of the Central church in Pascagoula, Miss., became an outdoor restaurant, of sorts. One week after triple-digit winds ravaged the area, Mark and Laura Cremeans of the Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team in Somerset, Ohio, set up grills to begin serving hot meals — with more than 1,300 dished up so far.
When they’re not cooking for the community, Mark Cremeans said the group’s 100-plus volunteers are gutting houses, tarping roofs and cutting trees.
“The morale is excellent,” Mark Cremeans said. “The volunteers are thrilled to have an outlet to help and share the love of Christ.”
Five individuals have been baptized at the hosting Creekwood church, Mobile, Ala., in the past week, he said. “This church is a very active congregation, and they are very committed to this effort.”
While Wayne Gaines has returned to his essential job of mosquito control in Louisiana, he spends as much or more time helping meet other needs he calls just as important.
Gaines, a member of the Tammany Oaks church, Mandeville, La., made an assessment trip to Gulfport, Miss. last week. While relief and rebuilding efforts are progressing, he said the need for self-sustaining workers to unload, pack, distribute and minister to those in need is at “the level of a loud shout.”
“We need to convey a sense of hope to those displaced by the storm,” said Gaines, who helps with Disaster Assistance Response Teams. “Not the simple kind of hope that says, ‘I hope things work out for you,’ but the kind of hope that says, ‘Here I am because you are hungry, because you are thirsty, because you are scared … because you are Christ himself and I am here to serve you.’
“If there is one thing that God has impressed upon me in this whole disaster it is the need to look people in the eye and convey real hope. It would do no good to look someone in the eye only to have them see you flinch.”
A common theme among all responders is the need for church members to understand how long this work must continue, as it progresses through many stages.
It’s easier to understand the current, most pressing needs people have, they say. But because of the storm’s scope, deeper thinking is required. Affected churches will need help with budgets and commitments. Ministers and missionaries have lost support temporarily, or in some cases, permanently. Federal funds and insurance reimbursements will be inadequate for many to rebuild.
“The need for cash at this point is great, because as this tragedy moves along, funds on the ground will be important to help people meet their needs,” Gaines said. “The most important thing is that you are needed and are being called out by God to respond to the needs of his people.”

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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