When the opportunity presented itself, First Baptist Larose was quick to respond.
LAROSE – When the opportunity presented itself, First Baptist Larose was quick to respond.
Six days after Gustav made landfall with 115-mile-per-hour winds, and three days after the passage of Ike’s 15-foot storm surge, church members forgot about the damage to their church and homes to tend to their less fortunate neighbors to the south.
Despite the storms causing extensive damage to the church – an estimated $10,000 –
Larose found itself to be one of only a few dry islands in a sea of muddy water and debris along U.S. Hwy 1.
“Gustav made landfall on Monday, but we were not allowed back into the area until five days later [Saturday],” Pastor Gary Hanberry of First Baptist Larose said. “As soon as the storm had passed, I was getting calls from people, who knew me personally, like evangelist Randall Gill of Ambassadors For Christ Worldwide Missions in northwest Mississippi, and Sam Johnson of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., wanting to know what was needed.
“Randall actually didn’t wait until I got back as he came in with a truckload of supplies on that Friday,” Hanberry said. “I had some church members unload it, but we weren’t able to deliver it until Sunday afternoon.”
Connections made during Katrina and Rita helped speed up the relief process as different groups, churches and organizations bombarded him with phone calls to see exactly what his needs were.
“Knowing me personally certainly helped tremendously,” Hanberry said. “Often you have to go through a tough process before they will drop off any supplies to you. It is sad to say, but too often unscrupulous people resell these supplies.
“I quickly made sure our people’s needs were taken care of from the first wave of relief,” Hanberry said.
And the calls just kept coming.
“Since I made those first few calls, my phone has not stopped ringing. Bascially, it is spreading by word and mouth,” Hanberry said. “I tell them we are fine, have everything we need, and they ask me, ‘If we can get you more relief supplies, can you make sure it gets to all of the others? I tell them absolutely. We would distribute the much-needed supplies.”
Thanks to an encompassing levee system the south Louisiana coastal communities of Valentine, Ludevine, Cut Off and Larose were spared from the extensive flooding that overtook the area. In the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Larose became an ideal staging point for an area hit hard by flooding.
“We were not able to start bringing the relief supplies until Sunday afternoon,” Hanberry said. “We loaded two small trailers and delivered water and canned goods and took them to the parking lots at Grand Caillou Baptist Church in Dulac and Bethel Baptist Church in Bourg. People didn’t even have to get out of their vehicles. We would load up whatever supplies they needed.”
While Hanberry makes it sound like church members just took a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive to a couple of sister churches, it proved to actually be a little more treacherous.
To get to Grand Caillou Baptist, which is roughly 34 miles away, or Bethel, which is 16 miles away, two small caravans of pickups towing trailers had to carefully navigate – more like feel ¬¬– their way through several mile-long stretches of road hidden beneath 18 inches of muddy water.
“As we drove into the parking lot at Grand Caillou, one man followed us in and begged me to let him buy some water,” Hanberry said. “I refused his offer and instead helped him put a couple of cases of water and canned goods in his vehicle. He said, ‘God bless you. We haven’t seen a FEMA or Red Cross truck yet.’
“Right then I think it struck me just what Jesus meant when He said, Tis better to give than to receive. I had such a peace, and a sense of joy knowing that I was helping these people. It meant a lot,” Hanberry said.
As word spread of the devastation and the needs, supplies from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi began to roll into the parking lot at First Larose. They didn’t stay long as church members quickly dispersed the supplies.
Ten days after the storm, a steady stream of 18-wheelers were making their way down U.S. 90 and eventually U.S. 1 to Larose – filled with everything from seven tons of ice to water, diapers, cleaning supplies, dry cereals and canned goods. One truck even came loaded with $80,000 worth of meat.
Hanberry never lacked for volunteers to off-load and deliver the supplies. On a normal Sunday morning there are usually 110 in Sunday school and 125 in worship. At any given time during the past four weeks, 75 to 80 members of the church faithfully showed up to work daily.
“Not only did our church members turn out in wonderfully large numbers, but there were volunteers at the churches we delivered that were there to help us,” Hanberry said. “So, there was never any shortage of help.”
And the church didn’t limit itself to where it would go to deliver supplies.
Two days after making their first relief trip, Hanberry led a caravan to hard-hit First Baptist Grand Isle with an estimated 3,000 pounds of supplies on the first day vehicles were allowed in for relief. Now, almost four weeks after the storms, First Larose continues its relief efforts.
“We have gone to Live Oak, Pointe au Chene, Bethel, Grand Caillou, Hope Extreme, First Golden Meadow and First Grand Isle. We have been all over this area handing out supplies,” Hanberry said. “We deliver to the church’s parking lot or sometimes right there in the streets. I always made sure that wherever we delivered the local pastor was there alongside of us.
“It became a ministry of our church, and, in turn, became a ministry for other churches as well,” Hanberry said. “I know our people were truly blessed, because they could see how much good they were doing. And throughout this entire time, I didn’t hear a single complaint. Most people were very thankful and appreciative of what we were trying to do for them.”
Hanberry, though, says the real heroes are the people who gave so generously.
“Jack Lee, a layman from Bethlehem Baptist Church, sent in the first 18-wheeler. And then there was Gill of Ambassadors For Christ Worldwide Missions in northwest Mississippi, and Johnson of Woodhaven Baptist Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., and Second Harvest Food Bank from New Orleans. Bill Prout of Christian Services Inc., in Hattiesburg, Miss., was the one that sent the $80,000 worth of meat over.
“And there are so many others who have rushed to our aid – really too many to name,” Hanberry said. “It was such an outpouring of love and kindness … the type of love and kindness you can never repay in kind.
“When things finally do calm down, I want to send each of them a card of thanks and follow with a phone call to thank them personally,” Hanberry said. “And to tell them how much we appreciate them and all they did.”