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Louisiana hurricane survivor to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers: ‘This is not a coincidence. This is a God-given appointment’

October 20th, 2020 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

ALEXANDRIA, LouisianaPummeled first by the category 4 Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, then inundated by torrential rains from Hurricane Delta only six weeks later, Louisiana endured a double hit prompting a multi-state response by Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers—including DR teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—that is bearing fruit.  

DR crews serving in the Bayou State after Hurricane Laura paused work as Delta churned its way inland. Volunteers returned to the field Oct. 11, as a SBTC DR administrative team assumed responsibility from Louisiana Baptist DR for coordinating SBDR recovery efforts based at Philadelphia Baptist in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Volunteers from Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana reestablished operations in Alexandria, with additional teams from Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Alaska and Texas’ Jacksonville College expected to rotate in, said Wally Leyerle, SBTC DR associate and incident leader. 

Leyerle told the TEXAN much of the work based in Alexandria is a continuation of Laura recovery efforts and expected to wrap up on Oct. 31.

A picture of ‘the big guy’

For volunteers like Tennessee’s Karen and Tommy Wilson, the deployment has brought unexpected blessings. The couple returned to Alexandria after serving two weeks there following Laura and spending a week at home in Martin, Tennessee, awaiting Delta.

Teaming with SBTC DR’s Brad Stover and Larry Mika on Oct. 15, the Wilsons paused from driving skid steers, operating chainsaws and dragging tree limbs to make the day of a little boy and his great uncle.

Karen Wilson noticed little Mykel, age six, shyly watching a DR crew at work in his neighborhood of small frame houses. She asked the man who appeared to be the boy’s father if the youngster would like to take a closer look at the chainsaws in action. Bryan Newman, Mykel’s great uncle, agreed as Karen approached.

“Bless his heart, the little boy took my hand and we walked over, hand in hand,” Karen said. She answered his questions about how chainsaws worked.

“What’s that stuff?” Mykel asked, spying sawdust, a novelty to him.

Karen explained and the team allowed Mykel to touch and smell a handful.

“Man, that smells so good,” the little boy exclaimed.

As the men on the crew paused their work to play baseball with Mykel using a pine cone and tree limb, Karen visited with Newman, who related the family history.

“I am raising him,” Newman said. “It’s just been really hard. He has so much energy.”

“God put on my heart: this is the guy,” Karen recalled. She remembered the packets of small amounts of cash and Bibles left her by a Louisiana DR volunteer who had asked her to distribute them to people in need.

“You walk into a situation and God just says this is where the need is,” said Karen, a retired physical therapist and veteran of several short-term missionary trips to Honduras. “After hearing Bryan’s story, I knew God was telling me they needed this.”

She went to her vehicle to retrieve and deliver the gift to the big man who stood speechless and then teared up.

“You don’t know how much this means,” Newman said in a voice choked with emotion. “This is not a coincidence. This is a God-given appointment.”

The fun was not over for Mykel as, with his great uncle’s permission, Tommy helped the boy climb up into the skid steer, placed a yellow DR cap on his head, and drove him around for several minutes, to Mykel’s delight.

“I want a picture with the big guy,” Mykel asked after the ride, indicating Tommy.

After selfies and photos, Karen explained about the “big guy” to Mykel.

“You called Tommy the ‘big guy,’ but there’s really another big guy and he is the reason we are here. That big guy is named Jesus. It’s because Jesus loves you and loves us and he allows us to love you,” Karen told the boy, transforming a DR break into a teachable, gospel moment.

“It was kind of a mini-VBS,” Karen said. “The look on his face was priceless.”

While Tommy, a semi-retired FedEx driver, had deployed often with Tennessee Baptist DR, the Louisiana deployment was only the third for Karen, who retired August 1.

She felt God leading her then to retire in August rather than waiting till December as planned. 

“I’m glad I did,” Karen said. “Now I am devoting my time to DR and grandkids.”

Ironically, she retired from a home health agency based in Lafayette, Louisiana, and had returned to that state to help.

“I love meeting the people and just listening,” Karen said, describing another episode from the Louisiana deployment when crews working at a home made sure to involve the male homeowner, who had dementia, in the process.

“I am so glad you are here,” the man’s wife said amid joyful tears, as she watched the volunteers carefully incorporate her husband into the day’s work. 

“Every appointment that we go to is a divine appointment…. Being able to clean things up is an added bonus,” Karen said. “I am so glad I can be here.” 

‘Baptist people like that’

For SBTC DR volunteer Hope Hext of Tyler, Texas, manning the phones in Alexandria has been daunting as the administrative team organized work orders interrupted in advance of Hurricane Delta.

“We have made hundreds of calls this week,” Hext said on Oct. 16.

After a few days fraught with computer glitches and multiple attempts to reach homeowners, Hext felt exhausted in the late afternoon of Oct. 15.

Then the phone rang once more. Hext took the call. Her spirit weary, she gave the usual greeting, offering help.

“Miss Hope, can I just tell you there were five men who came to my house and they worked nine hours,” the enthusiastic caller exclaimed, introducing herself as Chastity, a local barber and single mom with a four-year-old daughter.

Chastity praised the SBDR workers, who not only refused money and offers of food, but removed numerous downed trees from her yard about three weeks before.

Chastity explained that her neighbor had paid a private crew $1,300 to remove a single tree and marveled that the SBDR crew even refused her homemade gumbo since they had already eaten lunch.

Not only that, but the men gave Chastity a New King James Bible and recommended she start reading the Gospel of John.

Chastity told Hext she already had found a Baptist church and been saved and baptized. Now she wanted to help others.

“I want to be around Baptist people like [the SBDR team],” she said, asking, “Do y’all need help? Do y’all need free haircuts?”

Hext encouraged her to use her position in town to tell others about Jesus, starting with her clients and her daughter, who would now have access to truth. 

For nearly 45 minutes, Hext shared encouragement and Scripture with Chastity, including Psalm 119 and Romans 8:28. By the end of the conversation, both women were refreshed and the once-weary Hext knew they had enjoyed another God-given moment in disaster relief.