Soon after the sirens blared on June 22 -- the signal for residents in nine city zones to evacuate their homes due to the quickly rising Souris River, which snakes through a valley running through Minot -- floodwaters engulfed the land along the river's edge. Dozens of homes along tree-lined streets, businesses and entire shopping centers were inundated.
Despite a serious lack of housing, 135 Southern Baptist volunteers are on the scene.
"Things are going well," said Bruce Poss, disaster relief coordinator for the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., who came to Minot with a few other NAMB staffers, plus Jack Shelby, state disaster relief director in Illinois, who is serving as incident commander inside NAMB's 30-foot incident command trailer parked outside North Hill Church.
Most of the current 135 volunteers are mud-out workers, while 24 volunteers from the Arkansas and Kansas/Nebraska conventions are handling the major feeding site at North Hill Church in Minot. Also, volunteers have:
-- prepared more than 48,000 meals.
-- completed some 2,800 laundry loads and showers for Baptist volunteers and victims.
-- finished 29 mud-out jobs.
-- made almost 1,400 chaplaincy visits, ministry contacts and Gospel presentations, with 16 decisions for Christ recorded.
"We still have a need for more teams," Poss said. "We finally got additional housing set up, which was a problem," he said, referring to the fact that hotel and motel rooms in Minot are booked solid by flood victims and the area's oilfield workers.
"Our goal is to be done by the end of September, and we'll keep on going until all of the mud-out jobs are finished."
Poss said the need to be finished by September is because the harsh North Dakota winters come early, sometimes with snow as early as October.
North Hill Baptist Church pastor, Dan Andrus, was himself impacted by the floods, which left two feet of water in his basement -- ruining major appliances and forcing him and his family to move out temporarily. The church itself, located north of downtown Minot, escaped the flood.
"We're a small church, but we have a big facility here. That's why we offered our campus for the command center and feeding site," said Andrus, who's served North Hill for the last 15 months. He said three church families were affected by the flood and had stored their salvaged furniture at the church.
One of Andrus' core leaders at North Hill Baptist, Doug Hollingsworth -- and his family -- managed to save some of their belongings but not all before the sirens blew on June 22, forcing them to evacuate.
"We don't know when we'll be able to move back to our house," Hollingsworth said. "We can only watch the continuous news coverage and hope that things will be OK.
"I take my responsibility from God to take care of my family seriously, so to lose my house would be devastating," said Hollingsworth, a 24-year military veteran. "Sure, tears were shed but I realize God is in control. God has a plan. I felt frustrated, sad, tired, sick and weak. I felt like giving up. But when I pray to God and leave it in His hands, I let it go and realize it will be what it will be. Any damage ... to our house can be repaired. But our 'home' will stay intact."
Harold Johnson of Arkadelphia, Ark., the "blue hat" leader for the disaster relief feeding operation at North Hill, said his team has prepared three meals a day since last Friday, when the Arkadelphia contingent arrived. They will be serving hot meals for another week and then be relieved by a feeding team from another state.
But the men and women in the "trenches" are the mud-out teams -- those working in 90-degree heat and humidity to handle the 389 requests from local Minot citizens for assistance, many of whom have already begun mud-out and tear-out on their homes themselves.
Billy Gilmore of Amarillo is the "blue hat" for a 16-member team -- including five women -- working on gutted homes near downtown Minot. It took Gilmore and his team two days to drive from Texas to Minot.
Gilmore, a seven-year veteran of disaster relief, has participated in response to disasters all over the United States and even in Thailand, Greece and Nicaragua. "I do it for the love the Lord. The Lord says 'Go' and I go," he said.
The week's highlight for Gilmore's team was leading a 26-year-old man -- whose home on Second Avenue was destroyed by the flood -- to Christ. While the crew worked on the man house, Gilmore's team -- along with a disaster relief chaplain -- also labored over the man, talking with and praying for him.
"It took all 16 of us to bring to Christ, not just one person," said Gilmore. "We don't deserve any credit. Give the Lord the credit. We were all fired up by it. It inspired us and gave us all a glow."
Gilmore's team could have used an emotional lift after shoveling up the black muck and mud from the basements of flooded Minot homes in which they worked. All disaster relief work is hard, but mud-out is the hardest, nastiest, smelliest job of all, according to disaster relief veterans. But Gilmore's good-humored team didn't complain, they even joked about it.
"If I was getting paid for this, I'd quit," said Gene Shellhouse of Poetry, Texas, as he pushed up another wheelbarrow of black muck from a basement. The tall, good-natured Shellhouse resembled a West Virginia coal miner -- so covered with muck and mud that his disaster relief ID badge was unreadable. Yet, he and fellow worker Paul Morrow did the dirty work with a smile and the occasional joke.
The owner of the house at 1016 2nd Avenue SW in Minot -- where the Gilmore team also worked -- is Anna Winters-Jones, who lived in the home with her disabled husband and three small children. In front of the small, light-green home is a six-foot-high bank of debris -- old carpeting, sheetrock, wood, insulation, soaked furniture and even appliances, once floating around inside the house.
"We had 5 feet, 7 inches of water on the main floor and the basement was full," said Winters-Jones. "I heard the Baptists were offering help, so I stopped at North Hill Baptist Church and applied. I knew I couldn't do it myself." Although the family didn't have flood insurance -- like most of the flood victims in Minot -- Winters-Jones has received a FEMA grant to re-build.
"We're very fortunate and blessed that your guys from Texas were able to come in and help us," Winters-Jones said. "I was surprised when they showed up today, and at how fast and diligent they are, and how they have such a good attitude. They're very productive and wonderful people. Their spirit just shines through."
But Gilmore's was not the only Southern Baptist disaster relief mud-out team hard at work. Blue hat Bentley Hill and his crew from Oklahoma drove 1,100 miles over 19 hours and with only a few hours' sleep, hit the ground running in Minot, looking for their first job. "The guys are looking for an opportunity to be a blessing." They didn't have to look far.
Bob Dick headed up a crew from Ohio, made up of men and women. "This is the worst I've ever seen," said the 65-year-old Dick, a retired truck parts manager from eastern Cincinnati. "We've seen flooded houses before but not as many and across such a big area. Each house we've worked on had a water line four feet high on the ground floor."
Each mud-out operation goes like this: crews remove the loose articles, furniture, etc.; remove the sheetrock, carpeting and other flooring; pressure-wash to remove contaminated dirt and sewage in the house; and spray with a chlorine-based bleach and water solution to fight mold and mildew. Some Minot houses -- which all have basements and many with hardwood floors to strip, a difficult job -- take as long as a week to mud-out.
"What draws me to do this is, I just want a way to show Jesus' love to other people," said Dick. His team has led 26 people to Christ during mud-out operations since March.
A member of Dick's team, Larry Randolph, of Belle Fountain, Ohio, says he does it for the opportunity to share Christ. "The reason we're successful is that we're a team of prayer -- prayer for the people serving, prayer for our team and prayer for opportunities to share."
Bill Crane, of Evansville, Ind., is the blue hat for the Indiana mud-out team that has whittled its 15 mud-out jobs down to a dozen. Why does Crane give up a week of his summer to do this?
"That's an easy one to answer. Why did Jesus go to the cross and die for me? When I think about what He's done for me, what He still does for me, and what He's forgiven me for, if I can just show a little kindness to somebody else...." said Crane, whose white Indiana disaster relief trailer is emblazoned with "Carpenters for Christ."
According to FEMA, the June flooding resulted in $100 million in damages in Minot and eight other North Dakota counties. Receiving 8,800 requests for assistance, FEMA has already paid out $77 million for temporary housing and home repairs, according to local news reports.
The 135 volunteers on the ground represent the Texas Baptist Men (BGCT), and other state conventions from Arkansas, Kansas/Nebraska, Texas (SBTC), Ohio, Indiana, the Dakotas, Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Carolina and Kentucky. Teams are being housed in Minot at Cross Roads Baptist Church, North Hill Baptist Church, Bethel Free Lutheran Church, Our Redeemer Church, and Minot High School.
Other SBDR teams en route to Minot are from state conventions in Arizona, California, Georgia, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah/Idaho and Virginia, and additional Texas teams from BGCT and SBTC.
To donate to NAMB's disaster relief fund visit www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations and hit the "donate" button. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Donations can also be sent via texting "NAMBDR" to the number "40579." A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller's mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.
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