Relief work leaves mark on Northeast

Baptist Press
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Posted: Oct 06, 2011 5:52 PM
Relief work leaves mark on Northeast
BOONTON, N.J. (BP) -- A displaced couple in their 90s and a widow forced to live in her car for a week have been among those assisted after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee by the North Jersey Network of the Baptist Convention of New York.

Network disaster relief directors David and Elaine O'Neill said God's grace has been at work after the storms' onslaught in late August and early September.

"They're devastated. They're hurting," David O'Neill said of those displaced by the storms. "One woman was like, 'I just want to go home,' but she couldn't go home because the home wasn't safe to go into.

"You feel good about helping them and, yet, you feel somewhat of a concern because you would like to do more," he said. "You look at such disaster and such ruin, and you feel like you'd like to rebuild their homes for them."

Having led a team of volunteers in cleaning and gutting homes in northern New Jersey, O'Neill's work will now move to south Jersey in cooperation with World Cares Center, a nonprofit group coordinating disaster relief for more than 1,000 residents who've requested help there.

The Baptist Convention of New York, meanwhile, will close its relief work by week's end after cleaning and gutting 50 properties in several New York communities, including Binghamton and Johnson City, said Mike Flannery, BCNY disaster relief director. All SBC feeding units in the state also have ended their operations. Disaster relief units from 15 states joined in the BCNY work over the course of a month, assisting residents in tangible ways while advancing the cause of Christ through the SBC.

"We helped them … in a practical way they could take to the bank," Flannery said, referencing work that would be worth thousands of dollars in the private sector. "They were taken aback. They could not believe that people actually volunteered to do such nasty work and then we gave them Bibles. We had a few people saved through that process."

The convention also mobilized nearly 350 college students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and Davis College in Johnson City, N.Y., with Flannery leading the training in disaster clean-up and feeding as Davis College hosted feeding units and housed volunteers.

"Outstanding" is how Flannery described the students' response. "It could not have been better. They had smiles on their faces with the ventilators on and tie-back suits" that are part of disaster relief gear.

In the adjacent Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, volunteers have cleaned and gutted 29 properties to date, said disaster relief director Karleen Campbell, who expects work to continue through October in Bloomsburg and Williamsport, Pa., as volunteers become available. The BCPSJ's Spirit of Grace feeding unit, with the help of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, served nearly 110,000 meals during the 17 days it was mobilized in September, Campbell said.

Work could continue in New York through October as well, Flannery said, if volunteers were available. But he noted that Samaritan's Purse International Relief is mobilizing in the area for long-term recovery work.

Flannery said the SBC responded well to the Northeast's trauma from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

"All I can say is praise God, because people responded well," he said. "I think that the prayerful support of many people sustained us in these four weeks, and I know that the people who were touched by Southern Baptists are closer to the Lord."

Some churches in the disaster area expressed an interest in aligning with the SBC after seeing the Lord's work accomplished, Flannery added, saying, "God blessed us in a lot of different ways."

Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans.

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