When Disaster Strikes

On March 31, twin tornadoes from the same superstorm touched ground not far from Memphis and pummeled through Wynne, Arkansas, and Covington, Tennessee. Bellevue Baptist Church was able to respond to this crisis not only by sending financial aid to the affected towns but also by sending out relief teams to help homeowners get back on their feet. Just three months later, the Mid-South was hit again.

On June 25, Shelby County was hit by a severe thunderstorm with winds up to 80 mph that left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power due to downed trees and power lines—which added up to $25 million worth of damages. Mayor Lee Harris declared a state of emergency, and Congressman Steve Cohen reached out to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for disaster assistance.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief (TBDR) enlisted out-of-state assistance—and many have responded. Over the past month, Bellevue has acted as the base of operations. Volunteers from neighboring states, but some from as far as Michigan, have set up temporary accommodations on Bellevue’s campus so they can go out into our community and complete hundreds of work orders that have come in and continue to be called in.

“There have been so many people coming to the doors of Bellevue for aid,” said Dae Thomas from Bellevue’s Missions office. “But more importantly, many of them are seeking a listening ear, and it has been a joy to be able to sit with them and hear their stories. I am so grateful for all of those who have served, and more and more people are coming by the day. I am overwhelmed by the Lord’s Body coming together in unity.”

Kent Mathis, who leads Bellevue’s Disaster Relief team out of the Missions office, shared the heartbreaking reality that many residents are receiving blows of insurance quotes (up to $60,000 in repairs) after losing their homes and livelihoods. Disaster relief volunteers, by coming in with chainsaw crews and workers who are willing to get down and dirty, save those families thousands of dollars. And the resounding question the storm victims all ask in their gratitude is, “Why are you helping us?”

“When they see what we actually do, they are blown away,” said Kent. “They get to see the love of Christ. Some get saved, and we pray that many more will.”

Volunteers who are part of the work crews said that believers who were affected by the weather crises were, in turn, enormous blessings to them.

“I was so encouraged by the faith of the man whom we went to serve,” shared Parker Dingeldein, a Bellevue volunteer involved in Covington disaster relief. “Even in the grief he was going through, he was trusting the Lord in it. He testified that the Lord was blessing him through this. I was so encouraged to hear his testimony and faith because it encourages me to trust the Lord more through any grief or trial that I have!”

More than one hundred people from Bellevue have worked 500 volunteer hours in Covington, yet Bellevue Disaster Relief still needs additional workers to be available whenever disaster strikes.

“I think we’re planting seeds,” shared Kam Long, another Bellevue volunteer. “We pray with them and let them share about what they’re experiencing just to encourage them. It’s so traumatic to see your home destroyed, and it’s so expensive to hire people to clear the fallen trees, so for us to be able to help out is great.”

The recent storm has brought more attention to the need for disaster relief workers, but it has also showcased the beautiful picture of Christ’s Body coming together to tangibly demonstrate God’s love to the community.

Volunteers from more than 20 churches have shown up this week. After they leave, more will come, and after they leave, still more will come—until the work is complete.

“I’m here for the long haul,” said Tina Golden from TBDR. “If you don’t know how you can help, there is something for anyone. Take time during your daily devotion to pray for the teams out there volunteering. Pray for their safety. They’re out there serving [working with heavy machinery] without worrying anything could happen. We need prayers for them.”

“There is a job for everyone,” agreed Karen Wilson, also from TBDR. “We need cooks, chaplains, laundry units, prayer warriors….You don’t have to know how to cut a tree or clear a wall. Anyone can help.”

“My desire is that more Bellevue members would get involved in this ministry so that when the opportunities arise, we can immediately respond,” said Kent. He added that there is a great need for strong men to reinforce the chainsaw crew at Bellevue.

Disaster Relief volunteers are required to become certified, and regular trainings are held by the Tennessee Mission Board to certify anyone who is interested.

For more information about becoming a certified volunteer and joining Bellevue’s Disaster Relief team, please contact Kent Mathis at kmathis@bellevue.org.