It didn’t take disaster relief volunteer Ronnie Register long to describe the situation where he is serving.
“The situation here is pretty rough. There are a lot of hurting people,” Register said as he looked across the church parking lot at a flooded subdivision in Longs, S.C.
Not only had floodwater been just below roof level of some homes, but the buzzards were having a field day feasting on dead fish floating in the murky waters.
“I could drive to where those birds are feeding in five minutes today (Oct. 3) but on Monday it took me an hour and a half. The water was so deep in areas we had to drive way around the flooding to reach the homes,” he recounted.
Register has been serving in Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief for about a decade and says he has just about seen it all. He’s followed in the aftermath of floods, ice storms and tornadoes from Georgia to Louisiana. He served locally in his home of Adel, Ga., after a tornado last year took several lives.
Register and other volunteers have been operating out of the parking lot at Living Waters Baptist Church in Longs, a small unincorporated community directly west-northwest of North Myrtle Beach. The area consists largely of new developments, planned communities and a few golf courses.
In spite of the heartbreak of lost lives as well as lost homes from Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas — few, if any residents had flood insurance — Register, a member of Brushy Creek Baptist Church, did have good news to report.
“In just the first three days of this week, through Wednesday, we had five professions of faith. That’s five people who prayed to receive Jesus as their Savior,” he said.
“They ranged in age from a 15-year-old boy who was out for driving lessons with his grandmother to a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran who prayed right here at our command center.”
Register said it was a long 10-hour drive from south Georgia to the church because of all the detours. It had only been a couple of days since the slow-moving flooding began to drop at a much faster pace.
“We’ve been here for two weeks doing assessment and can now actually begin mud-outs,” Register said. “We are only now able to actually enter some of the houses and get a feeling of where we can get to work.”
Stuart Lang, Georgia Baptist disaster relief coordinator and state missionary, said about 25 Georgia Baptist volunteers have been onsite in South Carolina. The effort there is basically a call-out for Georgia volunteers rather than individual units, he noted.
“Until Hurricane Florence hit South Carolina we had had a pretty light season,” Lang noted in gratitude.
It’s too early to know how long Baptist disaster relief will be involved in the Carolina cleanup and recovery because “there is far more there than we can possibly get done,” Lang said. “We have adopted a multi-prong approach that includes helping people, equipping them to help themselves.” That means teaching them how to mud-out their homes with tools and supplies donated by Georgia Baptists and others responding to their needs.
“At this time there is nothing churches can do [in sending volunteer teams], but we will send out the word as soon as we get a better understanding of the needs and how we can respond,” Lang said.
“We will continue to assess job requests as we are able to get to them. So far, we’ve received 90-plus requests but many, if not most of those requests, are currently inaccessible.
“Mass feeding is slowing down but we will continue to assist South Carolina feeding units as needed and then morph into low-volume feeding for our own volunteers. But at this point, we are staying at a camp that is providing meals, which means our feeders on-site are helping however they can.”
Lang noted that many are wondering how much longer they will have to wait before they can really start to help people.
“Let’s be reminded that hurricane flooding requires the most patience of any natural disaster we face. We currently have feeding volunteers assisting South Carolina units in Florence and now Conway. [Others] are in Longs. So be assured, we are there and are touching lives.”
Lang thanked Georgia Baptists that, because of the generosity of having leftover Buckets of Care donated to last year’s hurricanes, more than 400 buckets had already been distributed to Florence, S.C.
“At this time, states have not asked for us to collect any more buckets,” he said. If and when a request comes, details will be posted online and on FaceBook. Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief asks that individuals not self-deploy or collect any items unless requested. Georgia Baptists can make donations at https://squareup.com/store/ga-baptist-convention.
— Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.