Regional Baptist leader describes disaster relief efforts as “joyous but daunting” witness opportunity.

By Robert Dilday

In the aftermath of furious thunderstorms that swept the Mid-Atlantic June 29, leaving nearly 2 million households without power in the midst of record-breaking heat, Baptists in the region were initiating feeding and cleanup services in stricken areas.

The unexpectedly violent storms ripped out trees, tore off roofs and downed power lines across Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, killing at least eight people. A slice of North Carolina between Durham and Raleigh also lost power, as heavy winds swept through.

Exacerbating the situation was an unusual heat wave, which sent temperatures soaring above 100 degrees in most of the region.

The governors of Maryland and Virginia and officials in the District of Columbia declared states of emergency in their jurisdictions, as power companies predicted it might be as much as a week before power was restored in some areas.

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s disaster relief ministry placed all of its feeding volunteers on alert June 30 and dispatched a Mechanicsville, Va.-based unit to the western part of the state to begin feeding operations July 2.

The unit, based in Warm Springs, Va., was prepared to serve an initial 2,000 meals in Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties, said Nichole Prillaman, the Mission Board’s missions volunteer coordinator. The unit also provides shower and laundry facilities.

“At this point our biggest need is feeding thousands of people who have no power,” said Prillaman. No requests for repair work have been received, she said, adding that may change.

In the Washington area, the storm hit at the beginning of a week-long mission initiative sponsored by the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. MissionServe is bringing about 350 middle school, high school and college students from across the nation to the area to rectify code violations on about two dozen houses in suburban Takoma Park, Md. Also planned are Bible club activities in churches and community centers.

Many of the youths began arriving over the weekend, to be lodged in a school which now has no electricity. The convention borrowed a mobile shower unit from the Clinch Valley Baptist Association in Gate City, Va. — about 400 miles southwest of Washington — for the students’ use.

“It’s a joyous but daunting time,” said Ricky Creech, the convention’s executive director/minister.

But Creech said it also is an opportunity to test the D.C. convention’s new emergency response team, its first foray into disaster relief ministries. On July 1, emergency response team and MissionServe volunteers were to remove debris from houses and streets in Takoma Park, Md., about eight miles from downtown Washington.

The D.C. convention organized the emergency response team earlier this year, purchased two trailers and other supplie, and launched a series of training events for volunteers. It is working closely with D.C. Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and other agencies, including the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.

“This team will be a great witness in an area where Baptists are in the minority,” said Creech.

In North Carolina, which escaped the brunt of the storm, North Carolina Baptist Men was monitoring the situation and was in contact with Virginia Baptist disaster relief, said Richard Brunson, the group’s executive director. No volunteers had been mobilized as of June 30, he said.

Without lights or air conditioning, churches across the region cancelled worship services on Sunday morning, July 1, though some met outside, encouraging worshipers to “dress comfortably.” Other churches combined services, while cancelling Sunday school and other activities.

Both Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center near Lynchburg, Va., and CrossRoads Camp and Conference Center near Lowesville, Va., cancelled or postponed activities. Eagle Eyrie, operated by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, remained without power or phones on July 2. CrossRoads, owned by Virginia Woman’s Mission Union, was left with no power or water until at least July 7.

Cameron Edgar, moderator of the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said churches in Maryland were setting up cooling centers for neighbors without electricity — as were other congregations across the region.

First Baptist Church in Gretna, Va., promised in a Facebook posting to “stay open as long as there is a need” for anyone who wished to spend the night. Grandin Court Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va., also posted to Facebook, offering its facilities to “anyone who needs AC, showers, cold drinks, some TV time or to charge electronic devices.”