Making a Difference
By Gwen Sisson
For the WPT
Three years ago, disaster relief teams were in Webster County helping to clear debris from a tornado that ripped through the county.
And almost three years to the day, work crews from Webster County are in Louisville, helping tornado victims begin the road to recovery that they know so well.
Jim Didlake, director of the Men’s Ministry Department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, said the Webster Baptist Association Disaster Chainsaw Team led by Gene Williamson was on the ground in Louisville the day after the tornado, working to assist with the cleanup. This team joined other teams responding to the area.
“They have done a tremendous job in assisting families with major cleanup of trees and debris left by the storm,” Didlake said. “The reason we can respond to disasters is because of great teams like this.”
Gene Williamson, of Cumberland Baptist Church and member of the Webster County Disaster Relief Crew, said disaster relief is an important ministry.
“When a disaster happens people feel helpless,” Williamson said. “They might not know what to do or where to turn for help. When a disaster relief team shows up with chainsaws, tractors and manpower to get trees off houses and to cover the house with blue tarp if needed to protect the home, people are relieved.”
The Webster County Disaster Relief Team also has a chaplain to listen to the homeowner and help assess spiritual and physical needs. Williamson said after a disaster, “victims just need someone to talk to, to pray with and to help them come to grips with what is going on in their life.”
“If a person is not a Christian we just try to show them God’s love through our efforts,” Williamson said. “This helps them have hope that things will get better. We have seen people upset and worried who relax a little and have hope that they will get through because of the help they are receiving.
“Some say ‘we feel so much better since you all came.’ We have seen the peoples’ attitudes, strength and response in dealing with the damages — sharing that they know it was a miracle of God that they are still alive and that was the most important thing.”
William Perkins, editor of The Baptist Record, said the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force volunteers are “a crucial ministry in our state and around the world, and an incredible force for the Gospel when they mobilize for disasters.”
“They are composed of our brothers and sisters in Christ sitting in the pews next to us every Sunday, who feel led of the Lord to devote themselves to needs of others when others need them the most,” Perkins said. “They are remarkable people, and deserve our prayers and support.”
‘A Real Asset’
According to Martin Jacks, director of the Webster County Baptist Association, the Disaster Relief Team is an important part of the ministry of the association.
“(Volunteers) have committed to go and give real assistance when people need it the most and minister to others in the name of Jesus,” Jacks said.
“They do this because they want to help others and because they love Jesus. They do this without pay, on their own time and with no expectation of reward, other than the knowledge they have made a difference and are doing what their Savior wants them to do. They are a real asset to our county.”
The Rev. William Carpenter of Mantee Baptist Church said a disaster is defined by government agencies as an event that requires outside assistance to recover adequately from.
“This group is important because it provides a team of trained individuals who have already made preparations to provide that assistance when it is needed,” Carpenter said. “They also recognize that the assistance needed is not just material but can also be words of sympathy, a listening ear, a hug or a prayer. They are ready to give those forms of assistance as well.”
Lloyd Young, of First Baptist Church of Eupora and member of the disaster relief chainsaw crew, said it is something he feels led and equipped by God to do.
“It is something I can do,” Young said. “I feel like it is something the Lord would want us to do. I think we are called to be a Christian witness to those in need.”
And much work needs to be done in Louisville and throughout Mississippi because of tornado damage from April 28. The Rev. Terry Wills, pastor of Union Baptist Church and member of the Webster County Disaster Relief Team, described the situation in Louisville as “miles and miles and miles of devastation.”
“This ministry is important because most people just don’t have the equipment to do a lot of this type of work,” he said.
Wills said the Webster County Disaster Relief Team has been cutting trees off of houses and out of driveways and yards, primarily for the elderly and disabled. Team members are running chainsaws large enough to deal with big hardwoods, pulling limbs and using a tractor to help haul debris to the side of the street.
Other volunteers are going in behind the chainsaw crews to put blue tarps on roofs to protect the structure after trees have been removed. The blue tarps are used as temporary protection until insurance adjusters and others can make assessments and repairs.
“There is enough of that type of work to keep crews busy for weeks,” Wills said.
Lloyd “Bootsie” Cooper of Cumberland Baptist Church and member of the Webster County Disaster Relief Team said they have seen total devastation in the areas of Louisville affected by the tornados.
“But we have seen friends, strangers and the community coming together to help in any way they were needed,” he said.
Cooper and Williamson both live in the Cumberland community of Webster County and know firsthand the value of the community coming together to help one another in times of disaster.
And with that knowledge, both volunteers have been on hand every day of the cleanup effort. Cooper has also transported his personal tractor to Louisville on a trailer each day to aid in the cleanup effort.
The Webster County Baptist Disaster Relief Team had 16 team members and 11 other volunteers to help in the cleanup efforts in Louisville. But, more volunteers are always needed for the disaster relief team. Williamson said he hopes to grow the program to have disaster relief volunteers from every church.
“Our vision is to have disaster relief representatives in all churches throughout the association so we can be better servants of our county and others in need,” Williamson said.
For help or to be a part of this ministry, contact the Webster County Baptist Association at 258-5611.