By Kaitlin Chapman
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—Floodwaters that inundated 1,300 city blocks and displaced more than 26,000 people finally are receding from residential areas here, leaving a thick layer of dark, staining mud and people looking for help and hope.
That assistance has come through 71 Texas Baptists who arrived in Iowa prepared to serve people in need and share the hope of Christ in a place where it is desperately needed.
Three Texas Baptist Men response units were dispatched to the Midwest by the Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board. The units work side-by-side with Red Cross volunteers to provide lunch and dinner daily to displaced flood victims.
“During a disaster, we are called out to come and help fix food and minister to the people who have been through the disaster,” said Tim Willis, director for the Top O’ Texas disaster relief unit from First Baptist Church in Plains.
“Our main objective is to prepare hot meals for them. The Red Cross will deliver the meals to the feeding locations nearby. We try to get them associated with the church where they can come in and meet the members who are here.”
The relief units and the Red Cross are partnering with Immanuel Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids to bring relief to citizens. The church, which has seven families affected by the flood, has allowed relief efforts to be based out of its building. Teams have taken over the parking lot with emergency response vehicles, cooking tents and shower and food trailers. Some of the church members also have come to offer a hand with food preparation.
“The Red Cross purchases some of the food and then our partners, the Baptist convention, provides the workers and prepares the food,” said Hal Brink, a Red Cross coordinator. “We then deliver the food in the emergency relief vehicles. It is a wonderful partnership to have.”
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The disaster relief unit from Plains was able to provide 3,200 meals on June 17, and volunteers planned to prepare the same amount daily for at least 10 days. If needed, the unit can provide up to 20,000 meals a day.
A shower unit from Lamesa with six showers and two washing machines and driers also arrived in Cedar Rapids, and the state Texas Baptist Disaster Relief Mobile Units also were in Cedar Rapids awaiting deployment. The TBM state equipment—including three semi-trailers, a generator, forklift and four vans—has the capacity to provide 40,000 meals a day and is staffed by 51 volunteers. While waiting to be deployed, the volunteers were cleaning homes affected by the flood.
When asked why he drove almost 1,000 miles to help the disaster victims in Iowa, Gerry Jones, who served with the state unit, said that coming to Iowa was a natural response to what Jesus has done in his life.
“Jesus loves us, and we come up here as a testimony of that love and to help the people devastated by the floods,” Gerry said. “We are just doing what Jesus has asked us to do.”
As the Red Cross volunteers delivered lunches prepared by men and women with Texas Baptist Men, flood victims voiced their gratitude, sometimes refusing assistance and noting that other people need help more desperately than they do.
June 17 was the first day some residential areas were opened so residents could return to their homes to assess the damage and begin the clean-out and de-mudding process.
Through the disaster, the Texas Baptist men and women, along with Dan Wiersema, pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church, hoped people see they are loved by Christ.
“I hope they realize that God loves you,” Dan said. “I wouldn’t wish this disaster on anyone, but it will be neat to see what will come from this. It helps people realize where their wealth and happiness lie. When that is torn out from under them, then we have a chance to share where our foundation lies, in Christ.”
Kim Willis, wife of the Top O’ Texas unit coordinator, said that serving in this ministry has allowed her to see the hand of God work in her life and touch the lives of those they experiencing the disaster first hand.
“We’ve never been called out to anything that you didn’t see a telltale hand of God,” Kim said. “You get goose bumps because you know you see the hand of God. It’s amazing.”
All Texas Baptist relief teams will serve in the area as long as the need remains. The three units currently serving will work two weeks and then be replaced by additional Texas units if they are still needed at that time.
Disaster response is supported through designated gifts. To support Texas Baptist Men through the Baptist General Convention of Texas, send a check designated “disaster relief” to Disaster Relief-BGCT, P.O. Box 159007, Dallas 75315-9007.
Checks designated “disaster relief” also can be sent to Texas Baptists Men at 5351 Catron, Dallas, 75227.