According to recent forecasts, the battered Florida may be spared from the deadly wrath of Hurricane Ivan because of the category-4 storm’s westward drift. However, despite the glimmer of hope, Christian relief units headed inland, packing up their units and serving their last meal – at least until Ivan passes – on Friday, Sept 10, 2004.
“We really do want the people who are stricken and hurting to understand that we will not as Florida Baptists, as Southern Baptists, abandon them. It is simply that we’re standing down and finding a way to regroup so that when we see the whole picture we can get after what we need to,” said Cecil Seagle, the Florida Baptist Convention missions division director.
“We can’t dare leave these units and their workers in harm’s way, and the uncertainty of a category 5 means you put your assets in a safe place,” Seagle told the Florida Baptist Witness.
Baptists have been on-scene as the third largest relief entity to the hurricane victims since Charley hit last month. Since then, thousands of volunteers rushed in from across the nation to provide assistance, only to be faced with the threat of Hurricane Frances. The bulk of the volunteers left for home at the wake of Frances, and several others stood by at nearby disaster relief centers in Georgia. Last week, the units returned to Florida to provide aid, only to be faced with yet another storm threat.
Leo Pennington, pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Roswell, N.M, said he would “hate to go. We came to help, but of course, certainly we don’t have any control over the weather.”
“Ivan is coming through so we had to get out of its way,” explained Pennington. “But there will be another day that we will serve the Lord because that’s what we do.”
Wilda Morris, a member of First (southern) Baptist Church in Carlsbad, N.M, said she was disappointed because she could not serve even one meal. However, she said there are doors God will open up one way or another.
“I’m thinking it’s a little disappointing, but it’s very nice that they think we ought to be safe first,” she said of the disaster relief leaders. “It’s a ministry of God anyway because we do it for a love of other people who have less than we do.”
Pennington added that her team will likely return to New Mexico next week.
“We’ve been waiting on a lot of storms, but this is just too much,” Pennington said. “Frances ran it out of Port Charlotte and now Ivan is running us out of here.”
Despite the disappointments, John Schaull, director of missions for the Metro Baptist Association in Clive, Iowa, said the trip was not a waste.
“I spoke to our group last night and I told them that God didn’t tell us that we would come down here to be here a certain time or to do certain things. He simply told us to go and it’s our responsibility to obey, and we’ve done that,” Schaull told the Witness.
Although the Iowa team is on its first disaster relief deployment, Schaull said he believes the volunteers have been encouraged by their brief experience.
“I think initially they were disappointed when they felt that they weren’t going to be here as long as they desired, but as they’ve begun to work and to minister and God has brought people into their lives, even people they weren’t expecting to be able to reach out to, they are more encouraged and I think most of them will as a result become engaged long-term in disaster relief efforts,” he said.
Additionally, Schaull explained that he has seen the group grow spiritually and bond during their brief time together.
Said Shaull: “I’ve seen a great deal of unity and just joy as they’ve had an opportunity to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in ministering to people.”
Hurricane Ivan was forcast to strike Cuba, then enter the Florida Keys directly by Monday. From there, Ivan is expected to move north in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching Florida by Tuesday.
To give gifts for the victims of the massive hurricanes, visit www.NAMB.net.