By Jeff Brumley
The heavy rains that began Saturday, Oct. 3, in South Carolina became a deluge of seemingly biblical proportions by Sunday. And that’s when Merianna Harrelson’s phone started blowing up.
“I had church members calling to say ‘what are we going to do to help?’” said Harrelson, pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C. “There was one woman who was taking on water at her home, and she was asking how she could help.”
That woman was Bonnie Degen, a seven-year member of the Cooperative Baptist congregation. Degen ultimately had four inches of water flow into her finished basement and seep into its walls during the early part of last week.
But Degen hopped into her van when she learned that a big truckload of supplies was due into Lexington from another church.
“Even though I was still working in my basement, I went over to the church and loaded up my van full of water and toiletries and took it over to the Red Cross disaster center in Lexington,” she said.
And it was like that for Degen and other Emmanuel members all week.
But they weren’t acting alone. A number of long-standing partnerships between Emmanuel and other churches and nonprofit groups in the region kicked into gear during last week’s record rains and floods, Harrelson said.
It’s how a 50-member Baptist congregation with a bi-vocational pastor was able to distribute thousands of pounds of water and other supplies to communities devastated by flood waters, she said.
“Partnerships double our impact and offer a collaborative ministry experience that’s really powerful,” she said.
Also powerful, she said: “We are not alone.”
‘People have a heart’
Among those who responded in Lexington were First Baptist Church in Orangeburg and Fernwood Baptist Church in Spartanburg. Both are CBF South Carolina congregations.
First Baptist Senior Pastor Ryan Tucker said the needs of flood victims in Lexington helped church members who had watched helplessly as their neighbors to the north were hit much harder.
“We had one church member who had water up to his front door, but it didn’t go in,” Tucker said, adding that his part of the state received “only” about 10 to 12 inches of rain.
But First Baptist is a congregation that doesn’t do a lot of waiting when it comes to missions, Tucker said. It offers roving light home repair teams, works with the local Baptist children’s home and has raised funds for tornado victims in other states.
And as the rains fell and fell last week, Tucker said church leaders were already planning a flood relief fund and organizing traveling teams for long-term disaster recovery.
“But we also wanted to do something immediately,” he said.
And that’s where Emmanuel Baptist’s existing relationship with a Lexington mobile home community — very hard-hit by the flooding — came in.
“We decided to collect water and towels and we put it on social media,” Tucker said. The church also partnered with a local private school.
By last Tuesday, he said, 200 cases of water plus enough towels, toiletries, medicines and clothing were collected to fill a 24-foot trailer. Those items were distributed at the Red Cross shelter in Lexington.
Tucker said members of his church and others in Orangeburg who donated to the cause just needed a way to direct their desire to help.
“People have a heart to do something but so often they don’t know what to do and there can be a paralysis of uncertainty,” he said. The devastation that occurred last week “gave them that certainty.”
‘Makes you feel better’
Participating in such ministry also provides a sense of gratitude, Degen said.
Between efforts to clean out her basement and salvaging some of its contents, she was back and forth to places where the church and its partners were receiving and distributing supplies to some of the hardest hit flooding victims.
“I just helped out wherever I could,” she said.
And wherever she went she saw so much gratitude in people that it spilled over into her.
“At least 10 single-wide trailers were completely under water but there were smiles on their faces” when given cases of water, Degen said.
“To see the joy on the kids’ faces — it was great,” she said. “It really does make you feel better.”
That kind of spiritual boost is a natural byproduct when participating in God’s work in the world, Harrelson said.
“Our congregation is one who believes the church is not walls or buildings, but partnering together to bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth,” she said.
Harrelson said it isn’t just the churches but the community at large that is responding with generosity in the aftermath of the flood. Nonprofit agencies usually lacking in funds, clothing and other supplies are overflowing now.
“I hope this is an eye-opening experience that our community is surrounded by people who are in need and that this would change the way we interact with each other,” Harrelson said.