My disaster relief story
    November 1 2017 by Rick Houston, Guest Column

    I’m  writing this on a crowded bus as it pulls away from a heavily damaged Coca-Cola plant in Big Pine Key, Fla. It took 18 hours to get here from Hickory, N.C., so it’s going to be a long ride back.
    I am exhausted, and due to a quick downpour this afternoon, my shoes and socks are still damp. I don’t care. I’m looking forward to being home, and if a little discomfort is what it takes to get me there, so be it.

    Baptists on Mission photo
    Terry Hall, left, and Scott Daughtry, right, talk with Pastor Victor Morales in Puerto Rico. They were distrubuting water purification kits to Morales’ congregation. Baptists on Mission have been busy responding to many disasters this year and are still working to get people back in homes after Hurricane Matthew struck North Carolina more than one year ago.

    For the last week, I and 50 other volunteers, have been part of North Carolina Baptist Men’s (NCBM) response to the devastation Hurricane Irma wrought on the Florida Keys.
    For most of the last 25 years, I made my living as a journalist and author. I’m not a carpenter, electrician, brick mason, mechanic or handyman. So, when I was assigned to a cleanup crew in S.C., I did the best I could to help.
    I tore out tiles and carried debris to a dumpster. I tried to be the best carpet nail-puller-upper I could possibly be.
    Still, I found myself standing around and watching a lot.
    Other disaster relief opportunities have come my way in the past two years, but I didn’t go. I did not want to be some sort of morbid, disaster tourist who watched as other people mourned the loss of virtually everything they owned.
    So, here’s why I decided to serve in Big Pine Key. I am tired of all the all-out warfare that exists between conservative and liberal; Republican and Democrat; fake news and real; and maybe worst of all, social-media warriors who vent and spew daily about the evils of “the other side.”
    People are hurting, people are dying, and those on the outside are too busy casting blame on their ideological opponents to actually do anything about it.
    I wanted to do something about it.
    There’s another reason. I attend a comfortable Baptist church, and truthfully, I’ve developed a horrible attitude about it all. For the last few years, I’ve not been much more than a face in the crowd, if there at all.

    When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Irma hammered Florida, I was struck with a profound sense that I needed to respond. It was as if God spoke to me and said, “You want to gripe about church? What are you doing to help those who really, truly and desperately need it?”
    I was not able to make the call-up to Texas, but Florida? I was in.
    When I got on the bus to Florida, I knew no one on board. For an introvert like me, that is no easy thing.

    I sat down and heard someone in the seat directly behind me say they were from Boonville, which is in good ol’ Yadkin County. Turns out, Beverly Eckard not only graduated from high school with my wife, Jeanie, but college, too.
    My wife is a district court judge, and Beverly’s husband, Catfish, is a retired North Carolina State Trooper. Jeanie and Catfish worked together in the court system for years.

    Baptists on Mission photo by Mike Sandlin
    One of the key parts of working on a chainsaw team is keeping the equipment properly maintained.

    Another passenger, Mike Ely, introduced himself. His son, Will, was one of my students during a brief stint as a teacher several years ago. I’ll put it this way – if had 100 students like Will, I might very well still be teaching.
    For me, there is no greater fear than not knowing what to expect. When I got on the bus, I expected to go to Palmetto Bay, near Miami. Instead, we went to Big Pine Key. I wasn’t going to be on a recovery team. I was going to be on one of the feeding units.
    I had no idea what I was actually going to be doing. Maybe dishwashing? I was right, for once.
    Actually, even that isn’t quite accurate. I mostly rinsed parts and pieces of the big red plastic containers that workers used to ferry meals. I did it from just after sunup every day to around 9 p.m.
    The first day I walked onto the site, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to survive five days in this strange place with people I didn’t know. Five days later, I can’t imagine having shared the experience with any other group of people.
    Team leader Dotsie Helton, Charlie Harrington, Robert Marshall, Danny Sides, Anne Anderson, Ronnie Rahn and Doug Allen made this week one I’ll never forget.
    With temperatures in the 90s, the conditions were not kind. This may not sound like a rousing encouragement for others to consider the NCBM mission field, and the fact is, it’s not an easy youth group trip to a theme park.
    Some from our group were housed at Fifth Street Baptist in Key West. They left for the 45-minute drive before daybreak, and returned well after dark. Others stayed in bunk units on site in Big Pine Key.
    Shower units were stationed at both locations to at least temporarily scrub off the grime, until it was time to start all over again just a few short hours later.
    So why would you want to get involved? Forget the noise around you.
    Forget who is to blame and partisan politics. Forget the disappointments you may or may not have at church. Forget it all, and remember that people out there are hurting and need you.
    There is no way to adequately describe the beauty of the Florida Keys juxtaposed against the horrible devastation left behind by Irma.
    Framed by nearby debris, vehicles lined up for meals, water and ice. One car pulled up, and the driver was a woman, somewhere maybe in her 30s. As I handed her a boxed meal, I noticed she had tears in her eyes. She was not hysterical; she was not causing a scene by any means; she was just broken.
    For five days, I felt as if I would never be fully clean again. At times, the heat was nearly unbearable. I was hungry nearly all the time. There were the usual frustrations that come with any large operation. It took a long time to get to Florida, and it’s going to take a long time to get back home.
    For all that, however, that one woman is the reason I came to Florida. I do not know her name, nor her story. She is the woman I served, the one for whom I rinsed container after container after container.
    Who are you serving?
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Houston is a freelance writer living in Yadkinville. He has covered NASCAR extensively and written books on NASCAR and the Space Shuttle program.)
    Update from NCBM
    Baptists on Mission is currently working in four locations in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew, as well as Nederland, Texas; south Florida; Puerto Rico and in Granite Falls, N.C., serving a four-county area after a recent tornado outbreak.
    Funds from the North Carolina Missions Offering also help to support efforts such as these. Gaylon Moss, disaster relief coordinator, said there has been a steady stream of volunteers to all the locations. To donate or to find out more about how to get involved in disaster relief or other ministries of NCBM, visit

    11/1/2017 8:42:29 AM by Rick Houston, Guest Column | with 0 comments

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