‘All the way from Florida,’ FBDR volunteers bring hope

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By Barbara Denman Florida Baptist Convention

October 30, 2015

Sitting beside the swiftly flowing, blackwater Edisto River, Joyce Grooms watched as Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers dumped all of her earthly belongings from her fetid and moldy home.

Although she had lived on that scenic piece of riverfront property all of her life, Grooms, 81,  saw nearly four decades of life in her own home tossed away as refuse. Memories flooded back.

“I have to accept that this is God’s will,” said the member of Old Fort Baptist Church in Summerville, S.C. “He has a purpose in allowing it. We don’t know why. But He says He will give us grace sufficient.”

It was there in the kitchen next to the big picture window overlooking the water that she daily met God in her quiet time, with her Bible in hand. And yet the once-tranquil scene from that cypress tree-lined river proved too great a challenge for her home when Hurricane Joaquin stalled over South Carolina in early October, flooding numerous Lowcountry tributaries. The water rose 8 inches in her home. Two weeks later the river still stood at flood stage.

When disaster relief teams from San Jose Baptist Church in Jacksonville and the St. Johns River Baptist Association arrived at her home to begin the cleanup, volunteer Jim Briggle of Keystone Heights gently took the elderly woman’s hand to walk through her home and view its contents for the last time. Hand-in-hand they surveyed the damage to prepare her emotionally.

“I know God will help me,” Grooms said. “Whatever comes, He will help.”

Briggle answered, “You know Christ as your Savior then.”

Her salvation settled, the team went to work.

That morning every piece of furniture, kitchen appliance and drywall was discarded, with little salvaged.

As of Oct. 22, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from 15 states were engaged in ministry in four primary areas of South Carolina. A total of 493 homes were assessed for recovery, mud-out or rebuild. To date, 577 homes were repaired, which included everything from minor cleanup to more extensive projects. Nearly 70,000 meals were prepared and served in the response.

Florida Baptist Disaster Relief teams arrived in Summerville—northwest of Charleston—on Oct. 13. They were stationed at Old Fort Baptist and remained there until Oct. 23.

During that time, 92 volunteers representing numerous Florida Baptist churches and associations assessed 148 jobs, and completed 114. FBDR helped 55 homeowners clean out their damaged homes, cutting off their waterlogged drywall right above the flood line and performing mold remediation. A total of 1,079 meals were served and 60 spiritual contacts were made by Florida volunteers.

For homeowners across coastal South Carolina, the chaotic days following Hurricane Joaquin’s march through the state were filled with unbelief and grief. What were once mere creeks, retention ponds and drainage ditches became flowing rivers that consumed homes and bred mold, filth and, sometimes, pests.

The road along Peppercorn Lane in North Charleston was covered with mountains of soaked and mildewed debris. Vehicles from Florida and Oklahoma disaster relief teams lined the roads as volunteers worked to help needy families in the middle-class neighborhood.

A disaster relief team from Central Baptist Church in Monticello began cleaning out a home on the road, only to discover it infested with roaches. With every object moved, dozens of the insects scurried out. As the volunteers dumped wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of the waste at the curb, roaches crawled out from the bottom of the pile to the ground.

Wearing masks on their faces and gloves on their hands, the Florida Baptist volunteers carried on despite the stench, filth and roaches falling on their heads.

It is dirty work, admitted grandmother Cindy Adams, whose son, Daryl Adams, serves as pastor of the Monticello church.

“We can give them hope and a new beginning by doing all the hard work. Now, they can rebuild and have a new start,” she said. “The hard work is done because Jesus did it.”

Among the Florida Baptist volunteers were 14 students from The Baptist College of Florida, who traded a week of books and studies to sleep on the floor of the Summerville church and clean out waterlogged homes. The students were brought by Professor David Coggins, who wanted them to see firsthand that ministry is not done in classrooms. “By doing this we can support churches and support the Convention and get hands-on experience,” he said.

“I’m passionate about disaster relief, and I’m passionate about teaching students how to minister,” said Coggins, associate professor of leadership. “The best place to meet people is at their point of need. And this is there.”

Further down Peppercorn Lane, Forrest Smith, director of missions for the West Florida Baptist Association, and three volunteers tackled Mabel Livingston’s damaged home.

While family members had helped the elderly widow with some cleanup, additional work was needed when the Florida Baptist volunteers arrived to take the walls down to the studs.

“I am surprised. I didn’t know anyone would do this,” said Livingston. “I didn’t know what to do.

“From my eyes, I saw it was hopeless and all of the sudden there was hope. They came all the way from Florida to bring hope.”

Although the FBDR operation has left Summerville and returned home, cleanup crews are still needed to assist Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief teams in Georgetown. For more information, contact Delton Beall at dbeall@flbaptist.org; or 904-200-9709.

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