By Jeff Brumley
Folks in the Southwest have just about had it with the weather during the past month.
Oklahoma and Texas in particular seemed to have been singled out for meteorological abuse in the form of tornados, hail storms and flooding. Nearly 20 have died and more than 10 remain missing in some areas and residents are getting tired of it all.
“It’s been one crazy May,” said Mitch Randall, the Pastor of NorthHaven Church, a Baptist congregation in Norman, Okla.
NorthHaven was hit by a tornado and suffered minor damage earlier this month. That was followed by more than 24 inches of rain in Norman that’s caused flooding in homes and businesses. Mitchell and many others he knows have to get new roofs after recent hail storms.
“It really is bordering on absurd right now,” he said.
Texas has taken it on the chin, too.
Parts of that state have been pummeled for weeks by wet, violent weather.
But perhaps the worst of it happened over the Memorial Day weekend when 17 were reported killed in Texas and Oklahoma.
Crews searched on Wednesday for 11 people missing in Wimberley, Texas, where the Blanco River rapidly surged to at least three times its flood stage, the San-Antonio Express News reported.
The Weather Channel on Wednesday said Houston was experiencing more heavy rain after days of thunderstorms with torrential rain. Swaths of the city remain flooded.
The Baptist Standard reported a tornado damaging First Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, Texas.
The magnitude of damage
But Baptist and other disaster-response groups are already on the scene in areas they can reach, in part because they were already working in some of the affected communities when more storms, tornados and flooding hit.
“It’s a huge group of people who come together in times of disaster,” said Marla Bearden, disaster recovery specialist with Texas Baptist Disaster Recovery. “It’s what I like to call the faith-based family.”
The Baptist part of that family is in heavy mobilization mode and recruiting volunteers for everything from debris cleanup to electrical work and skilled building. Texas Baptist Recovery is currently working in Van, Texas, helping rebuild homes and clearing debris.
The organization will also work through Texas Baptist Men which is leading recovery efforts in Wimberley and also in San Marcos, where more than 400 homes have been destroyed.
“We are working together on immediate relief just because of the magnitude of the damage,” Bearden said.
Texas Baptist Recovery is launching a new initiative called Church to Family Partnerships, which connect congregations to families who have been affected by this recent round of tornadoes and flooding.
‘Do not self-deploy’
But storm victims in Texas and Oklahoma aren’t going it alone.
CBF Disaster Response is coordinating the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s response through its stage organizations in those states, Tommy Deal, CBF disaster response director, said in a statement emailed to Baptist News Global.
Deal added he’s been in touch with partners through the North American Baptist Fellowship Disaster Response Network, and with Texas Baptist Men and with Texas Baptist Disaster Response.
“Each of these is in the process of ascertaining what areas have been affected, what the immediate and long-term needs are, and what churches are doing which we may come alongside and help,” Deal said in the statement.
He also issued a call for donations plus a plea against individuals or churches responding without registering with relief organizers first.
“Please,” Deal said, “do not self-deploy nor collect items to send/deliver that have not been asked for. Our partners on the ground will know what is needed and will let us know.”
‘Pray for us’
So far, self-deploying helpers, notorious for impeding relief efforts, have not been seen in Texas, said Chris Liebrum, director of tge Cooperative Program for the BGCT .
“We’re not seeing it yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going on,” Liebrum said. “I put that somewhere between compassion and curiosity.”
Houston remains a big question mark, Liebrum said. Texas Baptists are still working to contact churches in the city about damage and needs.
Some congregations in the city are doing the same and many are jumping into action to help distressed neighbors.
First Baptist in Houston posted a photograph on Facebook of flood-damaged vehicles and issued a call for prayer and offer for help. “Were you affected?” the post reads. “Contact your Life Bible Study leaders and let them know.”
South Main Baptist Church in Houston announced on Facebook its closure on Tuesday due “to the flooding around town ….”
The Facebook pages of churches in other parts of Texas had more serious tones.
First Baptist Church in Wimberley posted a photo of volunteers gathered in its sanctuary Wednesday morning.
“Pray for us, that God would lead us,” the church said in its post.
First Baptist Church in San Marcos has posted several photos of damaged homes and roadways, and of volunteers working to clean up the damage from the flooding.
“What a day,” a May 25 post begins. “The body of Christ was visibly at work today as so many people were literally the hands and feet for those who have lost everything.”