By Irene Harkleroad
Fourteen days after Louisiana’s worst flood damaged or destroyed 14,000 homes and covered Baton Rouge with several feet of water, Arizona Southern Baptists were there to offer help, healing and hope.
The first Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge on Aug. 25.
The Arizona team was deployed to assist in “mud-out”: shoveling mud from homes, tearing out sodden drywall and insulation and attempting to reclaim furniture, appliances and personal belongings in an area covering two zip codes. Hundreds of Louisiana disaster relief members could not respond because they were also victims.
“We were the very first help the community had seen,” said Mitch McDonald, Arizona Southern Baptist missions facilitator and disaster relief director. He delivered the mud-out recovery trailer to Woodlawn before the team arrived.
“The flood in Baton Rouge was worse than the flooding I saw in New Orleans after Katrina,” McDonald said.
Woodlawn Baptist Church had been providing shelter and members had been preparing meals for the firemen, police and volunteers since the event began. Anticipating a second Arizona team and additional volunteers, McDonald and Patty Kirchner, leader of the first Arizona team, prepared a 12-day menu, purchased food and worked with the church team to relieve some of the stress of feeding additional workers for the coming weeks.
“We had over 100 untrained volunteers coming in on Saturday, including the softball team from Baylor University,” McDonald said. “Patty conducted an onsite crash course for our people, and by the end of the week, they were team leaders. It was a way cool experience to see God do something of that magnitude. We weren’t prepared for it and He did it through us.”
Kirchner stayed on site a few days after the second Arizona team arrived to help with the transition and assist in preparing meals.
The second team arrived Sept. 3. Dave Turner arrived mid-term on team one and became leader of the second team.
A total of 22 Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, including people working in administration, logistics and as chaplains, served on both teams and completed eight mud-out projects. Each team stayed about two weeks, and then Randy and Crystal Meeker returned the mud-out unit to Phoenix.
“Each team had just one person under 60, and our oldest worker was 82!” Turner said. He and his wife, Norma, worked with both teams.
“The work was long, hard and hot, but it is so rewarding,” Kirchner said. “It touches you when you can bring a little bit of relief.”
Disaster Relief chaplaincy training will be available in Scottsdale Dec. 2-3. To learn more or to register, go to http://arizonadisasterrelief.org/ or call Crystal at 480-945-0880 or 800-687-2431.