Disaster Assistance Connects Church with Community
by: Robert Tipps, Kensington Woods Church of Christ in Hattiesburg, MS | October 8, 2018
Thanks, Mike Baumgartner and Disaster Assistance CoC.
When disaster strikes, sometimes you do not know where to turn or what to do.
As a minister in churches of Christ and early retired law enforcement detective, I have witnessed tragedy and disaster on many levels. In my hometown of thirty-two years, I was generally prepared for things that might happen. My family and my wife’s were close by. Thirty two years’ worth of friends, connections and assets were available. Not to mention the fact that I knew every deer trail and fishing hole in 500 square miles. Needless to say, when disaster would strike, I generally had a plan or at least someone to call.
In December of 2016, however, my wife and I moved our family six hours away from our comfort zone in Winchester, Tennessee, down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The next month, in January of 2017, disaster struck. An F4 tornado settled down and made its home on the ground for over thirty miles through Hattiesburg and Petal, Mississippi. Many homes were damaged or destroyed, and four lives were taken. Hundreds were affected.
I was in a leadership position but out of my element. I could have normally called the mayor, sheriff, or 1500 friends of mine to help out others, and could have been effective quickly, but this time I didn’t know who to call. People needed help and other than PB & J’s bottled water, I was in need of resources.
Our church leadership was placed in contact with Mike Baumgartner with Disaster Assistance Church of Christ. Mike brought his travel trailer and began working immediately. His trailer made available to anyone a free, hot meal for breakfast and lunch.
Mike has a lot of experience in dealing with disasters and with disaster assistance. He gave lots of good advice and directions on some topics we were not used to handling. Disaster Assistance gave our congregation a resource to help feed people, make new contacts, serve others, and display the love of Christ. Our congregation was given simple ways to help serve in little ways that resulted in a large impact.
Each meal was hot and simple. A person could receive an individually packaged meal without the need for a fork and could eat on the move while they worked or helped assist others. Each meal had either a breakfast biscuit or burrito with a honey bun, napkin and one of our church cards. The lunch meals were either a hamburger, quesadilla, burrito, or chicken sandwich along with a pack of cookies, a napkin, and our church card.
We were able easily to feed people in large numbers while giving them a chance to connect with our church family.
The meals were easily handed out of truck windows, delivered by twenty at a time to a door if needed, and one morning I even tossed six up on a roof to roofers for a quick, lunch. We fed victims, utility crews, work crews, police, emergency workers, city street and park workers, volunteers, homeless people, those from displaced families, and people from businesses which had been damaged. And people kept coming back.
For two weeks, Disaster Assistance stayed in the trenches to assist the congregation and to serve others. Different people from all over the United States who work with Disaster Assistance came to volunteer for both short and longer periods of time.
There were many wonderful organizations that pulled together to help. Strong numbers were on out the weekend and we were able to feed them. On weekends, the volunteers in the area were especially numerous, and we could feed them too. After the Red Cross workers, people from FEMA, and many volunteers had left, we were still going strong to feed the community. And the public noticed and reacted. Volunteers from the community wanted to join our efforts, and they did.
We did not, however, just feed people physically. We also gave an opportunity for them to be fed spiritually. Bible studies were set up and some of these are still going on. It is nice still seeing people that I first met with a sausage biscuit and a hug and they are still in a Bible study. We still get calls from people who say, “We saw the number of your card,” and I know where that originated—right beside a hot hamburger under a napkin.
We thank Mike Baumgartner and Disaster Assistance for allowing us to contact people in their time of need. We served 7,535 meals and gave out that many cards about our church. And 7,535 times a member of the church of Christ gave a meal and the love of Christ to someone else. We planted 7,535 seeds in fourteen days.
I hope I never have to partner with Mike again in my hometown, but if disaster strikes, I know he will be one of the first to be called.
1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” If you want make life easier for Mike in case you ever need him, Make a few RV hookups on your congregation’s property. If his trailer has power, then you have the power and resources to feed the world.
Disaster Assistance serves where there is a disaster—whether tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, or other such problems. They are currently assisting on the east coast with Hurricane Florence where they are working primarily with the Helen St. Church of Christ in Fayetteville, North Carolina. They have served over 7,000 meals and are helping families with supplies and cleanup. To contact them or to make a donation, go to www.disasterassistancecoc.com.