NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- A team of about 25 disaster relief volunteers from Alabama were hard at work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary over the weekend, removing debris and downed trees scattered by Hurricane Isaac.
They arrived Friday, Aug. 31, just over a day after the winds from Isaac had abated.
The team included members who had worked the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, nearly seven years to the day earlier, as well as other hurricane responses through the years and the April 2011 tornadoes that swept across Alabama.
"They call us, we go," said Sammy Freeman, one of the team leaders.
Freeman got his start in disaster relief with Katrina. Since then, he and other team members from Alabama's Cleburne Baptist Association have been all over the country: Cleveland, Ohio, New York City, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.
The Cleburne contingent of six men and three women started by clearing debris from around the railway that forms the western boundary of the campus. They moved on to downed trees and broken limbs around the campus. By midday Sept. 1, the team was removing a pine tree that was leaning against a faculty house. The team anticipated moving on to off-campus projects in the Gentilly Woods and Pontchartrain Park neighborhoods soon thereafter.
"When we work, we work hard," Freeman said.
Chainsaws roared from another Alabama contingent, from Calhoun Baptist Association, just a few houses down as they removed a tree from another faculty house. Most of the 13 Calhoun volunteers, meanwhile, worked to remove a pecan tree from behind the seminary's library at the front of campus.
At that work site, Ken Burnham, a trustee for the International Mission Board from Oxford, Ala., carved up the trunk of the felled tree, while Marc Webb, also of Oxford, cut branches to size.
Judy Luker, a member of Golden Springs Baptist Church in Anniston, Ala., was one of the volunteers charged with moving chunks of the tree to the street. She said her husband has been involved in Alabama Baptist disaster relief since Katrina and has been involved in building churches since 1979. His involvement in disaster relief, she said, moved her to get involved.
"He came back so excited that I wanted to be a part of it too, so we got some women involved," Luker said of the Calhoun contingent. "This is the ladies' first trip out of state."
The ladies of the group have done a lot of tornado cleanup work following the April 2011 tornadoes, she said.
John Thomas, associate director of missions for the Calhoun association, said there are about 125 trained Southern Baptist disaster volunteers in the association. The team planned to work through Tuesday, Sept. 4, and then reassess to see if more volunteers are needed.
Thomas was one of the volunteers that did relief work during Katrina. "It's not near as devastated as in Katrina," he said of Hurricane Isaac's impact on the area, "but there's a lot of trees down."
Thomas said he's glad to roll up his sleeves and work in Jesus' name.
"We just love helping people and showing the love of Jesus," Thomas said.
The volunteers and their chainsaws, NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said, were "undoing the damage of Isaac with relentless effort. Their nickname on campus is 'chainsaw maniacs' because they keep going and going."
And thanks to that steady, determined work by Alabama Baptists, the seminary campus was ready for classes to resume following the Sept. 3 Labor Day holiday.
Power was restored on the NOBTS campus late Saturday, Sept. 1. Seminary officials monitored the stability of the restored power until 9 a.m. Sunday before giving the "all clear" for students to begin returning to campus. The seminary resumed normal operations on Sept. 4 with one exception, as chapel was canceled due to a lingering HVAC issue.
Frank Michael McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. With reporting by Gary D. Myers.
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