Uninsured tornado victims on pastor's heart

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 08, 2012 5:52 PM
Uninsured tornado victims on pastor's heart
HENRYVILLE, Ind. (BP) -- "Forty percent of our community are uninsured, and it's not because they're bad people or even that they're poor people," said Toby Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Henryville, Ind., one of the towns hardest hit by the March 2 tornadoes that ripped across several states.

When the nation's economic slump hit, many residents were unable to continue the insurance on their houses, Jenkins said.

Cecil Seagle, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, agreed that many tornado victims are facing financial crisis.

"e really need to have folks who are either uninsured or under-insured find a way to begin rebuilding their lives," Seagle said.

In hard-hit areas such as Henryville, Marysville and Pekin, Seagle sees small signs of recovery: Power poles are being raised and debris hauled away. But it pales in comparison to the scale of the destruction.

"We've probably been in 65 to 75 of these storms over the years where we've been just actively involved in disaster relief, and I never, never, ever get used to the sight, the smell and the feel of absolute loss when I stand with families and people looking at the result of a storm that they could not do anything about," Seagle said.

Local churches and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams are doing their best to help tornado victims, cutting away limbs and brush, putting tarps on damaged roofs and providing basic necessities to tornado victims, with more SBDR teams slated to arrive in the days ahead. An SBDR incident command center has opened at Bethel Baptist Church in nearby Memphis, while FBC Henryville serves as a hub for volunteers and ministry. The North American Mission Board also is providing assistance.

People responded with an outpouring of donated items such as food and clothing, Jenkins said, noting that the items are appreciated and being put to use. But he said the church is well-enough stocked so that more pressing needs can be addressed.

"The pastors organized quickly," Seagle recounted, "and began doing a number of things -- meeting needs, sharing the Gospel and caring for those who were really, really needing the kind of pastoral care that would get them through the storm."

Seagle sees daunting challenges ahead for the affected communities, including the psychological toll that a disaster can take.

"I especially worry about homeowners who experience the shock, and they just can't comprehend it," he said. "Almost without exception, the next phase of that is a huge, huge depressive, overwhelming 'We cannot cope with this.' And so the hope that we have is our disaster relief volunteers and our leaders on the ground … will be able to step in and say, 'This is going to take us a while, but we are going to recover.'"

Jenkins said he has seen numerous examples of God at work in the midst of that recovery, such as when one of First Baptist's deacon lost everything and had no place for his family to live.

"A family from another state showed up I guess two or three days after it happened with a five- or six-person RV and signed the title over to them," the pastor said.

Jenkins views his church's place of responsibility after the tornado as a blessing from God because the congregation is being used in such a powerful way. He emphasizes to volunteers that what they are doing is about much more than cleaning up debris or handing out food. It is about the people who are hurting, who don't know the love of God.

"We do want to cut down the tree; we do want to give out food; we do want to secure people's homes," Jenkins said. "But we're more concerned with the people than we are anything else, and sharing with them the hope that is in Christ."

Seagle asks Southern Baptists to pray for wisdom that disaster relief workers would know how to respond to the needs, and for pastors and lay leaders who are devoting so much of themselves to ministry. They need a prayer covering, he said, that God would give them strength and grace.

He and Jenkins both ask for prayer that Baptists will not lose sight of the priority of introducing people to the life that is found in Jesus, a prayer God already is answering.

"It is remarkable what's happening and how the Gospel is penetrating into our community," Jenkins said. "I just can't imagine what this place is going to look like when the dust settles."

John Evans is a writer based in Houston. To donate to tornado relief, visit the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana's website, www.scbi.org, or mail a check to the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, 900 N. High School Rd., Indianapolis, IN 46214, designated "Tornado Relief." Donations also can be made at the North American Mission Board's website, www.namb.net.

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