LONG ISLAND, N.Y. (BP) -- Volunteers are the heart of Southern Baptist efforts to bring help, healing and hope to survivors of catastrophe. Just ask Michael Raab.
"You guys kicked-started my recovery," said Raab, a Freeport, N.Y., homeowner to a volunteer team from Kentucky involved in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief's two-year Sandy Rebuild initiative following the superstorm that made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012.
Raab's waterfront home took on five feet of water from Hurricane Sandy's storm surge and was hit hard by strong winds and waves off Long Island's Great South Bay. Overwhelmed by the extensive damage, Raab said he could not bear to face his home of 25 years to begin repairs.
"There have been weeks that I have driven by and could not even go into my house. I would avoid coming here," Raab said. "My life has literally been on hold for 11 months. It took me months to finally pick up the phone and say, 'Help.'"
Raab, who now serves as Nassau County's storm recovery liaison, managed an American Red Cross shelter that housed 1,200 Long Island families at its peak after the storm. He spent many sleepless nights, thinking about everything from the storm's damage to the stories of hurting people.
"Here I am helping hundreds of families and I was too proud to reach out for help for myself," Raab said. "New Yorkers don't feel very comfortable reaching out for help. We're independent and self-sufficient. We're very proud people.... here are people who are out there who are so hurt and in such internal pain that they still can't say, 'I need help.'"
While working with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders, Raab learned that SBDR volunteers could help him.
Assisting the Baptist Convention of New York, Metro New York Baptist Association, New Jersey Net and local churches with repairs and community restoration, the North American Mission Board and North Carolina Baptist Men are coordinating Sandy Rebuild efforts on Long Island where nearly two-thirds of the post-superstorm recovery effort is needed.
Shortly after his call for help, a team came to meet Raab and begin tearing out the damaged basement of his home. Since the storm, Raab has lived 35 miles away from his empty home. He stopped on his way to work to meet with the crew in the mornings and evenings.
That first day the Baptist volunteer team from Ewing Baptist Church of Ewing, Ky., filled up one and a half dumpsters with water-soaked furniture and debris. They cut tree limbs, patched Raab's roof and cleaned the yard.
Raab returned at day's end and said he was overcome by all the work the group did.
"When I came here and walked in the door and I saw people helping me I started to cry. It just all came together. We prayed together. It was very powerful for me and has truly built my faith again," Raab said.
Fourteen members from Ewing Baptist Church who worked at the homes of Raab and other Long Island residents were joined by three other volunteers from nearby Kentucky churches and with other SBDR volunteers from North Carolina, South Carolina and Illinois over the course of a week in September.
Volunteer Jennifer Bussell said she and the Ewing team saw such a change in Raab.
"On Monday, he looked lost and hopeless. He didn't even know where to start," Bussell said. She said the team helped him realize he is one step closer to going home and that things are going to be OK.
Ewing Baptist pastor Keith Abrams and his wife Linda said the work was a great experience for the group since they developed relationships with the homeowners, which is not always the case on ministry sites.
"We had many opportunities to pray with them and to have conversations," Linda Abrams said. "God made it clear to us that we are not here always just to do the physical work. People are more important than the work."
Raab, although early in his home's restoration, said, "When you see people come together when there is need and people are at their weakest, you get strength from others.
"There are people out there who love others and who are willing to go beyond themselves. I will be forever grateful to them. You guys brought me back to life. I can go home now."
Southern Baptist volunteers, 10,678 strong, have served 1.85 million meals, completed 2,678 jobs, shared the Gospel 878 times and witnessed 116 professions of faith since Superstorm Sandy made landfall Oct. 29, 2012. To volunteer for or learn more about Sandy Rebuild visit http://www.namb.net/Sandy. To view a related video, visit http://www.namb.net and click on the Spotlight viewer.
Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net