Flooded Deweyville church looks to be base for community relief
Pastor makes first home visit by boat following record flooding in SE Texas
April 4th, 2016 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
DEWEYVILLE—Damon Bickham, pastor of First Baptist Church in Deweyville, never expected to make a home visit in a boat. But Bickham and his brother, Brad, First Deweyville’s associate pastor, brought batteries, lights and snacks to area residents who had not evacuated their homes when the Sabine River crested to record levels March 15 following a week of heavy rain.
Bickham could have steered the boat to his church, which was filled with 3 feet of water.
“[Authorities] gave us a day or two notice that the flooding was imminent. We tried to elevate everything that we could,” Bickham said of the church. Musical instruments and literature were saved, but the pews ended up floating in water.
The role of DR victim is an unusual one for FBC Deweyville, historically the center of the community in times of emergency. “We’ve met crises such as [hurricanes] Katrina, Ike, Rita; people come here. We are—or were—outfitted with showers, kitchens and sleeping facilities,” Bickham said.
The church that sheltered around 200 New Orleans refugees fleeing Katrina in 2005, now finds itself in need of help. SBTC disaster relief volunteers are answering the call, as are area churches urged on by the efforts of their pastors, but the still need additional help.
“The portion of our church family that resides in Deweyville, all of their homes were inundated,” Bickham said, estimating that 65 percent of the congregation had been affected.
Bickham’s own residence, remodeled only four months earlier, was flooded by 6 feet of water.
“My wife is heartbroken. All that has been taken away. It’s in the yard. Our church, my home, all of our congregants’ homes. … I know we will get on the other side of this thing.”
Few, if any, Deweyville residents have flood insurance. The community of only 1,200 is not in the 100-year flood plain, and the overflow of the Sabine was “unprecedented,” Bickham noted.
“We were able to move some of our elderly and find places for them. We are concerned about the families that have lost everything. We don’t want to lose anybody from our community. We are encouraging folks to stay and gather around one another. Let’s help one another be a town again.”
First Baptist Church in Orange has opened its doors, allowing FBC Deweyville to hold worship services there for the 500 who regularly attend. “It’s been really good. We’ve had great numbers and good worship, primarily from our church family seeing one another after such a blow. It’s been not only Christ honoring, but it’s been therapeutic for us,” Bickham said.
The pastor praised the outpouring of help from area churches and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s disaster relief (DR) teams, in addition to help from organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. He also lauded the local fire department. “Congressman [Brian] Babin came. Directors and presidents of entire Baptist conventions have talked to us. It has been encouraging and edifying.”
SBTC teams have removed sheetrock, pressure washed floors and applied anti-mold treatments at the church and area homes. Local churches, pastors and personal friends have pitched in with labor and donations.
“Folks have come in and literally spent themselves,” Bickham said, calling DR crews not just helpful but experts. “They know what they are doing.”
The disaster claimed no lives, but when asked about moving experiences, Bickham replied, “It’s emotional.” He recalled driving into his driveway to see a “big fat water moccasin” on his front porch.
“I moved!” Bickham laughed. “I went to another door and prayed that God would get rid of [the snake] for me.” It was a humorous moment for Bickham, who hates snakes.
“With every day, that glimmer of hope gets a little brighter,” Bickham continued. “I love the passage [in Scripture] where the Lord Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. I feel that we are enduring some things for the joy that is set before us. There will be a bright day again. We must hold our heads up.”
Part of the joy, Bickham noted, is that unchurched flood victims have responded positively to the outpouring of help.
Residents whom the Bickham brothers assisted had resisted efforts by first responders to help them evacuate. After the Bickhams reached out from the boat, members of two of the families attended First Deweyville church services at their temporary location at FBC Orange for the first time.
“We didn’t realize the area was under martial law when we drove the boat in,” Bickham mused. “We just delivered supplies.”
They also delivered hope, but the work is not finished.
“Needs will continue” at Deweyville, said Jeremy Bradshaw, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in nearby Bridge City.
Bradshaw, whose church hosted 117 for a special SBTC disaster relief training held March 20, said he and other area SBTC pastors contacted one another to coordinate efforts to help First Deweyville and its community.
“We contacted [SBTC director of disaster relief] Scottie Stice, who was glad to come and do it,” Bradshaw said. “We hosted, but pastors and people from several churches attended. We were hoping for 25 and the Lord blew us out of the water” with attendance for the event that had been announced only four days prior.
Another DR training event was held the following Thursday, March 24, at First Baptist Church in Mauriceville, which is also hosting the command center for SBTC DR efforts.
Liberty Baptist and FBC Mauriceville congregations understand what it is like to go through natural disasters.
“We went through [hurricanes] Rita and Ike here,” said Kevin Brown, pastor of FBC Mauriceville. Volunteer work crews and individuals from both Liberty BC and FBC Mauriceville have been among those assisting in Deweyville DR efforts.
“We help one another. This is not new for us. Storms are part of our experience,” Brown said. “All of the churches are working together, and God is providing. We have faith that God is going to take care of it. Deweyville will rebuild and keep going.”
The need is likely to remain great. “This disaster does not have the national or even statewide attention a hurricane does,” Bradshaw said. “We are in the cleanout phase, but the recovery efforts will be continuing for weeks and months ahead.”
“There is a shortage of volunteers, with Louisiana hit so badly with flooding. Resources are spread thin,” Brown added, noting that area pastors, including Terry Wright from FBC Vidor, which has housed feeding operations, are in the early stages of planning how to coordinate ongoing rebuilding initiatives to assist Deweyville.
“We are in the process of helping organize for long-term recovery,” Brown said.
“Our focus is to get Pastor Bickham and his church back on their feet so that First Deweyville will be the heroes for the community that they have always been,” Bradshaw added.
Stice affirmed the focus, “Our goal is to get their family life center back online. This will serve as a place to worship and as a center of ministry to help the community.”
Stice praised the involvement of Liberty BC, FBC Mauriceville and other SBTC churches such as FBC Vidor and Hartburg BC in Orange, while agreeing, “There’s a lot left to do.”