By Jeff Brumley
Baptists meeting in Antigua greeted Tropical Storm Isaac’s passage through the Caribbean with humor and determination while Cooperative Baptist Fellowship officials in Florida and other Gulf states prepared for the worst.
Isaac caused disruptions including flight cancellations at the ongoing Mid Term Assembly of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship. But participants forged ahead with the opening on Wednesday.
“When the Lord is in the vessel, you can smile at the storm,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Winston Baldwin told participants in welcoming them to the island, the Baptist World Alliance reported.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Isaac is located is projected to pass just south of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and make landfall in Cuba during the day on Saturday. Projections show Isaac blowing over or near the Florida Keys before bursting into the Gulf of Mexico late Sunday or early Monday.
The forecast cones probably are too wide to predict accurately after that, with the eastern extreme showing the storm traveling up the center of Florida and the westernmost prediction showing landfall in the middle of Louisiana on Aug. 29.
But that uncertainty hasn’t stopped first responders and religious organizations from activating their disaster relief plans.
Charles Ray, CBF’s U.S. disaster response coordinator, posted a blog on Thursday alerting readers that Isaac is expected to be reach hurricane status in coming days and that state organizations, churches and individuals should be prepared to protect themselves and be ready to help if needed.
Ray told Associated Baptist Press that he fears crying wolf about early alerts, but it’s worse to wait until hurricane predictions become more precise.
Ray said he’ll be participating in a conference call Friday with national disaster relief agencies that include the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Let’s be ready for the worst and pray it’s all a waste of time,” Ray said. “But I am not going to sit here and wait until Saturday and say ‘whoops.’”
Nor are state CBF state groups waiting.
CBF Florida Coordinator Ray Johnson said the organization’s two disaster relief trailers, which contain debris clearing equipment, are being checked for readiness. Volunteers are being contacted to provide response if and when needed.
Also, former CBF Florida associate coordinator Tommy Deal, now the disaster relief coordinator for Cooperative Baptists in Georgia, has been tapped to lead disaster planning in Florida, Johnson said.
“I sent out an e-mail on Thursday to all CBF churches in Florida to let them know we are watching the storm,” Johnson said. “If we are needed, we can mobilize teams.”
Neither CBF national nor any of its state groups are considered first responders, so they wouldn’t be headed in the moment a hurricane makes landfall, Ray said. Instead, they’ll wait until military or law enforcement call on them to respond to areas of need.
Part of the planning also includes rushing to CBF churches and families who may need assistance, Deal said.
“Our objective usually is to find areas that have a CBF presence and that look neglected by other responders,” Deal said.
Wherever they go, Deal added that disaster response is part relief work, and part ministry.
“This is being the presence of Christ and it’s being Christ-like to people during a very dark time,” Deal said.