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In Galveston, Baptists help kindle hope in the wake of Hurricane Ike
October 13, 2008
By Carol Pipes

Southern Baptist volunteers have prepared nearly 250,000 meals since Sept. 24 at a disaster relief feeding center in Galveston. Three kitchens provided by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and one in-door kitchen provided by the Salvation Army prepare on average 31,000 meals per day. BP photo

For years the big, blue pillars flanking the bridge to Galveston Island have welcomed tourists and beachcombers to the city. Today they welcome Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers who are helping restore hope in the hearts of Hurricane Ike victims by preparing an average of 31,000 meals per day.

In the wee hours of the morning on Sept. 13, Hurricane Ike hit Galveston and continued to cut a wide and destructive path across the northern Gulf Coast of Texas and into parts of Louisiana.

Residents of Galveston said it was the biggest storm to hit the island town since 1900.

"I've been through five hurricanes here, but this is the biggest I've seen," resident and business owner Russell Conner said. Conner rode out the storm staying at the highest point of the island. His downtown storefront was under 12 feet of water when the storm surge swept in from Galveston Bay.

"Southern Baptists have been great," Conner said. "This is the best response I've seen in a disaster like this. You guys are giving us the support we need as we start over."

Southern Baptist volunteers are manning a feeding site with the Salvation Army and Red Cross. They have prepared nearly 250,000 meals since Sept. 24, said Mike Northern, a leader with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) disaster relief and a member of First Baptist Church in Pflugerville.

"We've been taking food out into the community," said Glenda Watson, a disaster relief volunteer from Leonard, Texas, and a Southern Baptist chaplain. "The people are just so appreciative. One woman just sobbed when we prayed with her.

"We met another man who lost his home in the storm, his wife left him, and now he is living in his truck. We gave him a blanket just so he'd have something to keep him warm," Watson said. "It's just the little stuff that you can do to make people happy."

Watson has been serving through SBTC disaster relief for four years. Her husband, Dewey, is the white hat at the Galveston feeding site. This is Glenda's sixth deployment.

"God equipped me to be a servant," Glenda said. "It's such a spiritual high and you get attached to the people you're working with."

The volunteers develop a real sense of camaraderie working together under the big yellow tent that houses three SBTC kitchens. The Salvation Army supplies a third indoor kitchen.

"There's a family feeling working together with believers from other parts of the country," said LaJuana Garner of Pflugerville. Garner joined the SBTC disaster relief team because it was a way to connect with people in need. "I want to share Christ with others and this provides me with opportunities to share the Gospel with those in need."

Glenda Sutton, a volunteer with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, understands the needs of those who lost their homes to Ike.

"My home was flooded out in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes came through Maryland," Sutton said. "So I have a heart for people who have been through disasters. That's why I volunteer; I can relate to what they're going through."

Sutton suffered a stroke nearly 20 years ago, but God has given her the strength to keep volunteering.

"Doctors said I was a miracle, but the miracle is being able to serve God all these years and telling people about Him," Sutton said. "Yesterday, I was able to witness to a young woman who works with the National Guard. She noticed how we prayed together, and I got to share with her why we're here making these meals.

"God is using this hurricane for His glory. He is bringing people together to serve and bringing those who are not believers closer to Him."

Disaster relief has brought the Whittington family who traveled to Texas from Albany, Ore. closer together. Serving with the Northwest Baptist Convention, Jim and Sally Whittington and their daughter Linne Boddy have turned missions into a family affair.

"This is our family vacation," Sally said with a grin. "Serving with disaster relief allows us to serve God as a family. We've done missions in Africa and Ukraine, but we decided it was time to do missions here at home.

"What better way to show how God has blessed us and to just be Jesus to those we serve."

Sally and her family have been preparing meals in Galveston since Sunday, Sept. 28. Though their work may be behind the scenes making ravioli and heating green beans they know they are making a difference in the lives of residents.

"God is speaking to people in so many ways even though we don't get to see it," she said.

Jim Whittington never imagined that serving God would mean cooking for the masses.

"My mom told me when I was 10 that I needed to learn how to cook," Whittington said. "I had no idea I'd be cooking for this many people one day."

You're never too old or too young to start doing missions, said Billie Moore-Young. "I wish I could encourage more people to do missions," said Moore-Young, who celebrated her 78th birthday helping cook lunch for 15,000. "The Bible teaches us to help others. If we want to do what Jesus taught, we have to do missions.

"I'm willing to work wherever I'm needed," said the retired schoolteacher who still finds time to substitute teach. "This is a great opportunity for retirees. It's fun work."

To donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, call toll-free or visit www.namb.net. (BP)

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