Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers touch lives during Sally cleanup


October 7, 2020

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers (from left) Ron Mitchell, Laura Vante, Wanda Emfinger, Toni Long and Cynthia Watts work in the ABDR Command Center at FBC Gulf Shores. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Walker Watts)

The torrential rain from Hurricane Sally sounded like bullets hitting Betty’s roof as violent winds rattled the windows of her home. Betty was alone inside as she watched her tall, straight banana trees fold into an upside down “U” shape.

Suddenly the huge tree which had shaded her home was suddenly uprooted and slammed onto her roof like a child throwing a toy during a temper tantrum. The house shook, and so did she as she grabbed her cane and walked across the house to assess the damage.

However, as the winds were wailing, she repeatedly recited Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Call for help

And after the storm, she called Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief Command Center at First Baptist Church, Gulf Shores. Her request was processed, and the “J Team,” as they are affectionately called — Jeffrey Wallace of Pageland, South Carolina; Jared Holt of Tuskegee Lee Association; and Jerry Lonideir of Dale Association — loaded up their chainsaws and skid steers and headed to Betty’s house.

They asked me to come along as chaplain to comfort her as all the commotion and activity happened outside. Often a work team will include a chaplain, especially if the homeowner is older and alone.

Betty described her life to me and how she felt during the storm. She again recited parts of Psalm 91.

“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ That’s the protection psalm,” she said. “Just like Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want for anything.”

‘My angel’

I was so impressed to watch three men working seamlessly to cut the huge tree into manageable pieces for the skid steers to move to the road.

Hour after hour, the tree sections were moved to the street. Jerry came to tell me they would be on the roof working on a leak and placing a tarp.

In just a few moments, Betty jerked with surprise and concern that someone was on top of her house.

I explained that it was OK. Jerry was sweeping off debris and doing some repairs.

She began to relax and said, “He will call upon me, and I will answer Him” (Ps. 91:15).

After the Disaster Relief volunteers completed the work, Betty hugged each one and thanked them for getting the tree off her house and stopping the leak.

She hugged me and thanked me for being with her that day.

“‘For He will command His angels concerning you’ (Ps. 91:11), and you have been my angel today,” she said.

The J team and I climbed into our vehicles and caravanned to the next house. With over 400 job requests just from this command center, the work continues.

How to help

Right now, hurricane relief is a critical part of Alabama Baptists’ outreach, said Mark Wakefield, the state’s lead strategist for Disaster Relief.

And funds earmarked for that effort could go toward a lot of different things.

“It could go for feeding volunteers, or it could go for buying temporary roofing materials, which we are going through pretty quickly,” Wakefield said, noting that they buy those materials in bulk from the manufacturer.

Disaster relief funds also help with buying, renting, maintaining and fueling heavy equipment like skid steers, or helping churches make repairs after a hurricane. Funds also help Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief crews prepare to respond in other states when there’s a need.

None of the funds donated to Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief go to overhead or administrative costs — all go directly to help people in disaster zones. Click here to donate to Hurricane Disaster Relief. 


By Cynthia Walker Watts

  • David Garrard Magic