Amidst the stench, destruction, helplessness, and disgust, there is opportunity says Jerry Moser. And he hopes Southern Baptists here will take advantage of it.
TERREBONNE/LAFOURCHE PARISHES – Amidst the stench, destruction, helplessness, and disgust, there is opportunity says Jerry Moser. And he hopes Southern Baptists here will take advantage of it.
“The people here have seen their community flooded before. Like always, they will rally around each other. They will rally around their community and do their best to take care of each other,” said Moser, pastor of Bayou Dularge Baptist Church, near the southern terminus of State Highway 315 south of Houma. “People here do not give up easily, and they certainly don’t want to leave their homes.”
But Moser has a sinking feeling some of the residents – many of the older ones – won’t have a choice but to move closer to town. The double whammy of Gustav and Ike just three years after Katrina and Rita have left the community in shambles.
“For generations, these hard-working people – mostly fishermen and oil field workers – have endured, overcome, and struggled to stay on this strip of land surrounded on three sides by water,” Moser said. “Many were just starting to get their homes repaired and raised off the ground when they were slammed again. I had helped a number of them, but there was still so many more to go.”
The small fishing community located to the south of Houma took the full brunt of Hurricane Gustav as it plowed ashore and roared north, but managed to weather the storm. It was Ike and its flooding rains that proved too much for their already damaged homes to take.
“The Lord allows these types of events so we can reach the lost in the midst of a crisis,” Moser said. “It is a chance to minister to people who are open. By being here with them, and by having endured what they have, you earn the right to speak with them. I have made sure to not let an opportunity pass me by.”
And neither have the hundreds of Southern Baptists already there or who have poured into the area to lend a helping hand. Nineteen of the churches in Gulf Coast Baptist Association suffered damage from the two storms, but have set aside their needs for the needs of the community.
In the days after Gustav, while many waited in vain for FEMA to bring in promised food, water, ice, supplies, and assistance, numerous Baptist churches were among the first offering help.
Church members spent those days directly after the storm had passes as first responders – cutting trees, spreading out tarps over damaged roofs, and assisting parish authorities where ever they were needed.
First Baptist Houma Pastor Steve Folmar, wielding a chain saw, led one of those disaster relief chain saw teams as they worked nonstop to assist businesses, homes and others in need.
First Baptist did this despite the fact that a wing – 3,000 square feet – of their multi-million dollar new school had been flattened, the steeple had been blown over and the roof peeled away at their northwest campus, and there was roof damage to several buildings at its main campus as well.
“There have been more yellow shirts and yellow caps in Terrebonne parish than you can imagine,” Folmar said. “We have yet to see a FEMA crew, or the supplies (ice, water, blue tarps) promised us. Right now, FEMA is a four-letter word around here.”
Unable to wait on the blue tarps needed for the damaged roofs, the church has bought some, and received more from other Southern Baptist churches.
Folmar has also been working closely with chain saw teams from Hattiesburg, Miss., and the Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Gulfport, Miss. One of those teams, headed by Rick Morton of Temple Baptist Church, helped to prevent a member of Folmar’s church from being taken.
“Rose Savoy is an 86-year-old member of my church,” Folmar said. “She had some people come by and ask if she wanted them to remove a couple of trees from her yard. They told her it would cost her $18,000. She agreed.
“Thankfully, we found out about it in time, and she hadn’t signed anything,” Folmar said. “We were able to convince her to let Rick and his team come over there and cut up and remove the trees.”
“It took us slightly over three hours,” Morton said. “She tried to pay us, but we told her there was no need. I could see charging maybe $1,800 for the job, but it certainly wasn’t worth $18,000.”
Larry Ponder, coordinator of disaster relief efforts for the Gulf Coast Association, was running four, four-man teams. Formed after Katrina, it was only the second time the unit had gone into action.
Pastor Wayne Hunt’s Coteau Baptist Church saw his church’s parking lot transformed into a major staging area for Red Cross trucks to pick up and deliver food to thousands who were without electricity.
Once again, the needs of the church – Coteau had a large leak, and extensive damage to the roof – were set aside to handle the needs of the community.
Joe Arnold, Director of Missions at Bayou Baptist Association, estimated 50 percent of the churches in the Bayou Baptist Association had some sort of damage from wind or flooding from the two storms.
A 50-member feeding unit from Tennessee was turning out 13,750 meals daily, just four days after Ike, and was expected to see its output increase as Ike’s flood waters slowly receded.
“We are certified to fix up to 50,000 meals daily, and have fixed as many as 33,000,” said Carol Webb, the NAMB-certified DR blue hat in charge of the feeding unit. “As the flood waters recede, people are finally able to get out, and they want a hot meal. We expect to increase our output daily.”
As more and more aid streams into the impacted areas, Moser wants people to be mindful that this recovery effort won’t be a couple of weeks, several months or several years. It is going to take a long time for the area to fully recover.
“On the short end, and most importantly, people here need prayer and for more clean up crews,” Moser said. “In the long end, we are going to need a lot more prayer, and for people not to forget us.
“We are going to need all forms of assistance with the rebuilding efforts, especially amongst the smaller churches along the bayou, and we are going to be needing it for a long time,” Moser said. “And we shouldn’t just limit our assistance to just Southern Baptists.
“I believe the church should be attractive to all,” Moser said. “If we do as God commands us to do, and show we love and care for our brothers and neighbors at the same time, we become more attractive in the eyes of the community. It shows we care, and if we are willing to do this for them, maybe they will begin to listen.
“It is a tremendous opportunity to reach the lost, and God has put it there for us to use,” Moser said. “Let’s use it.”