Carl Kemp, left, from Bridgewater Church and Enola Lee, pastor of Dowey-Gaston AME Church, were among those who came together to repair flood damage in Dowey-Gaston AME's sanctuary. (Photo: Reid Doster)
Bridgewater Church of Madisonville, La., didn't have to go far to find a way to engage in God's mission. This Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) partnering congregation just went down the street.
There, the congregation found Dowey-Gaston African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, whose sanctuary couldn't seem to escape localized flooding. Beginning with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the church had flooded three additional times: Hurricane Rita in 2005 and hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. To make matters worse, floodwaters didn't rush in and immediately leave. Water levels stayed high for days, leaving four distinct marks on the pews as a result of standing water.
Bridgewater Church used some of the funds from a missional ministries grant, awarded by the CBF in 2007, to help renovate Dowey-Gaston AME's sanctuary. In a mission effort that crossed cultural and racial lines, the two congregations worked together and formed relationships along the way.
"On our first day, 26 volunteers showed up to help, but the rain poured all day, forcing us to work inside and get to know each other," Bridgewater Church's pastor, Reid Doster, said. "A problem became a blessing."
Dowey-Gaston AME is led by Enola Lee, who in her short tenure as pastor has seen the church grow from just a few members to now more than 30 youth and 18 adults. "And the repairs to the sanctuary may just help continue that growth," Doster said. "That congregation is so grateful, and so are we. It's been good for our church, for their church and for CBF."
The CBF's disaster response efforts continue in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast in places like Pearlington, Miss., and Plaquemine Parish, La., where there are still families waiting to rebuild their homes and lives. Some churches, like Johns Creek Baptist Church from the metro Atlanta area, are still sending mission teams to the area to help.
"We're not finished on the Gulf Coast, but volunteer teams have not been coming nearly as much," said Doster, who helps coordinate the CBF's disaster response efforts. "If a church-based team wants to come, I'll do everything I can to connect them with a meaningful project and arrange for meals, housing, supplies and supervision on the site."
The CBF's continued hurricane recovery efforts haven't gone without notice from other response groups. In April, Catholic Charities of Arkansas transferred the remaining $10,000 of disaster response donations to the CBF's response efforts.
"This is a reason to be thankful," said the CBF's disaster response coordinator Charles Ray. "And it's a reason to create partnerships. We can help each other."
Since Katrina, the CBF has actively developed numerous disaster response partnerships that will enable a more effective response when future disasters strike. Nearly 10 Baptist organizations have met several times to discuss ways to combine resources, mobilize volunteers and work together.
"The intent is if a disaster strikes in a state with one of our members, we will generally bow to the partner closest and strongest to the disaster. We would follow their leadership, and they would be expected to use us as an equal under their leadership," Ray said.
Among the partnering groups are the CBF, Texas Baptist Men, North Carolina Baptist Men, Canadian Baptist Ministries, National Baptist Convention USA, American Baptist Churches USA and Virginia Baptist Men. For more on the CBF's disaster response efforts, visit www.thefellowship.info/cbfresponds.
Carla Wynn Davis is communications assistant specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.