Alabama couple shares Christís love to flood victims in Serbia
July 17, 2014
Alabama Baptists David and Joanne Hendon may not hold out long doing physical labor, but they know there is still a place for them on the missions field.
“God will find something for you to do,” Joanne Hendon said during their recent week spent helping with cleanup efforts in Serbia. “Everybody needs to do missions whether it’s across the street or across the world.”
The Hendons, who are members of Northside Baptist Church, Jasper, happened to pick the across-the-world option when the call came for disaster relief needs in the Balkan region of Europe — specifically in Bosnia and Serbia. Unusual amounts of rain have caused devastating floods, leaving thousands homeless and wondering how to begin rebuilding their lives.
Flood survivors tell stories of how floodwaters broke through local dams, leaving residents with only minutes to evacuate.
They now spend their days sorting through the remnants of their lives, searching for anything that can be salvaged.
“It was devastating,” one homeowner, Marina, said through her tears. “When I got here and saw what remained of my house, my whole world collapsed. I could not believe it. I had a nice house and a nice life, but now I am left with nothing.”
Marina, a widow with two teenage boys, represents one of dozens of families in an area outside of Belgrade where Baptist Global Response (BGR) volunteers, alongside International Mission Board (IMB) workers, are helping people rebuild their lives.
IMB worker Jim Andrews has helped to coordinate much of the cleanup and recovery work in the area. “People here are at a point of desperation,” he said. “They are grabbing at straws or whatever they can for hope.”
Andrews said that is where the work of BGR comes in — providing not just money and resources but also helping to activate and coordinate volunteers who are trained in disaster response to come to the field on short notice.
The Hendons are trained for international disaster relief and had previously determined to participate in missions trips now that they are retired. They decided within a day they would go on this trip.
Joanne Hendon said she has always felt her spiritual gift was to serve others.
“When I found out about this need, I knew that I was supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” she said. “There’s not much I can do; I can’t do manual labor like everyone else did. The manual labor is needed but (so is encouragement). ... A smile is in every language ... hugs are in the same language.”
Spending most of her time talking to and encouraging people, she said, “When I saw [someone whose] face was so fallen I would give them a hug and often they would just hold on to me and cry, and I was able to console them even though we don’t speak the same language,” she said. “There were times when they would ask why, and I would say, ‘I do this because Jesus loves you and I do too.’”
David Hendon added, “This is as rewarding work as there is because you’re coming at a time of someone’s most personal needs because they’ve lost everything. They’ve lost their house; they’ve lost who they are. Some of them will not be able to build back because of financial reasons.
“I wrote back to my church in an email ... that we needed a thousand people here instead of just a few because there’s so much need,” he said. “We could stay here a month, six months and not get everything done. But these are resourceful people. They’re helping each other; we saw that time and time again. Some people did not have things to work with and we were able to supply some of that. It was just amazing that so few have responded so far, and I just ask that people really prayerfully consider coming and helping out with the disaster here because the people here are very much in need.”
Gary Capshaw, a veteran of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief efforts served as team leader for the BGR volunteer team. “If you want to see the Church come alive, come and do disaster relief,” he said. “If you don’t get off your pew and get out into the field, then you will never know how alive the Church is.”
Andrews said the group spent a week in less than ideal conditions as they helped numerous families.
Not much to salvage
“When the floodwaters came, they also overflowed the sewage system, so it was not just the water that came into people’s homes, it was sewage too,” he said. “There was almost nothing that could be salvaged because of that.”
Volunteers had to do some “really disgusting” work, he said.
“Yet they did it with a smile on their faces.”
Marina and others said they have trouble understanding why a group of Americans would want to come to Serbia to help them. Yet they are grateful for the assistance.
“I don’t know what we would have done if they had not come,” Marina said. “I will always remember the day the Americans showed up to help.”
Editor’s Note — Some names changed for security reasons.