September 10, 2021

‘We Are Here to Do Ministry, to Help People’

Category 4 hurricane Ida pounded much of Louisiana in the United States with strong winds and heavy rain as it made landfall on August 29, 2021. From southeastern Louisiana and coastal Mississippi to southwestern Alabama, the central Gulf Coast sustained life-threatening flash and urban flooding. At least 26 people lost their lives. As of September 8, power was still out for 270,000 people in Louisiana. 

This same storm was responsible for at least 82 hurricane-related deaths across eight states, with most deaths occurring in New York and New Jersey. Record flooding and tornado damage occurred in those states in the few days after Ida made landfall and moved across the mid-Atlantic states and New England.

W. Derrick Lea, North American Division Adventist Community Services (ACS) director, reported that ACS Disaster Response (DR) is helping — or will help — in three major areas: shelter, mobile supply distribution, and debris removal assistance. Arkansas-Louisiana and Southwest Region conferences are currently helping residents by providing shelter and food at local churches and Southwest Region Conference's Lone Star Camp in Athens, Texas. The ACS DR team on site is working to start mobile distribution of food and supplies for those who are not at shelters but need help.

“The Lone Star campsite is just a little way from New Orleans,” Lea explained. “This particular campground has been made available for individuals who can no longer stay in their homes because of lack of power and sewage [services]. We are bringing people in from southern Louisiana. We’re giving them a place to stay.” About 75 people were at the camp as some wrapped up their stays to make room for those needing shelter. At least 40 people have already sought shelter at the camp; that number may climb to 60.

“We have eight cabins and six dormitories that we’ve opened up, and we have a gymnasium and cafeteria that we can open as well,” Bob Allen, camp director, said. “Here in camp ministry, our entire goal throughout the year is to provide a place where people can come to get away from the chaos in their normal lives. We’re doing the same thing; it’s just a different type of chaos. We’re here to do ministry; we’re here to help people. We’re here to serve for as long [as needed].”

Lea agreed. “We’re not really sure how long this is going to take,” he said. “This particular camp will be open to those that need a place of refuge. We’re providing lodging, food, and activities for the children. We are grateful for what the leadership of this conference, and this camp in particular, are doing and offering to the members of the community.”

ACS sprang into action early once the storm ended to provide shelter and needed goods in the community. Lea reported that ACS Southwest Regional Conference director Durandale Ford has led his team in providing food, lodging, and other needed items. ACS Arkansas-Louisiana director Lavida Whitson is working with her team to compile items that will be used either at a specific point of distribution or transported into devastated areas. “We’ll stay abreast of the situation and provide resources through some of our partners such as the American Red Cross and other faith-based organizations working on site,” Lea added. 

ACS Serves in Other Places

While the efforts ramp up in Louisiana, ACS DR continues to assist those affected by floodwaters in Waverly, Tennessee, as they recover from storms in late August. The South-Central team is onsite, working out of a 100,000-square-foot state warehouse. The plan is for the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference ACS director to identify volunteers and ultimately take over the operation in a couple of weeks. 

“We are living in a time when one disaster is sitting on top of the one before it, and only hours go by when another comes and captures our attention,” Lea said. “While these efforts go on into the future, other events are taking place within the NAD.” He shared that Wisconsin Conference ACS director Alice Garrett reported that about 9,000 men, women, and children arrived at Fort McCoy from Afghanistan. That number is expected to grow to 13,000 by the end of this week. Through meetings with aid organizations in Wisconsin, it was determined that new clothing and shoes are needed. “I have reached out to my churches, and the plan is we will deliver a load of items Thursday,” Garrett said. “I am so grateful for our churches’ generosity, and money has been turned in so we can purchase some things the fort needs.”

Further reports indicate that additional people from Afghanistan will be arriving in three locations in Virginia and at least one location in New Jersey before moving to other locations in the U.S. ACS will help with donation management as needed.

Lea said prayer is important during these times of recovery and dire need. “Keep the community in your prayers as we try to serve and do what God is asking of us — our mission of serving communities in Christ’s name.”

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.