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story.lead_photo.caption Disaster relief volunteers from Arkansas and Tennessee bow their heads in prayer before dining together in the Family Life Center of Central Baptist Church in Conway on Monday. Individuals in the group of Southern Baptists will work for a week at a time; and Dan West, leader of the unit in Conway, said the group has been stationed at Central Baptist for two weeks and will remain so for a length of time determined by community need.

Even before recent flooding along the Arkansas River displaced thousands of residents, faith-based organizations in partnership with state and federal agencies were at the forefront of efforts to assist those affected by floodwaters.

Partnerships for the Common Good, a toolkit developed by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, emphasizes the vital role collaboration plays as a supplement to government resources in communitywide disaster recovery efforts.

"If organizations and businesses -- including nonprofits -- are ready to survive and recover, our communities, country and our economy are more secure," according to the program's website.

Dozens of faith-based groups work with community, state and federal agencies through Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a national network whose partners include the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Rev. Jim Kirk, associate for national disaster response with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Louisville, Ky., said there is an intentionality in the partnership between faith-based and community organizations that helps streamline efforts, such as minimizing the duplication of services.

"There is really the deep, earnest attempt for the various organizations to work in concert," Kirk said. "This coordinated effort tries to ensure that all the communities that have been [affected] are being treated equally."

The network adheres to the four C's: cooperation, communication, coordination and collaboration. In keeping with those principles, the network organized multiagency resource centers in Pine Bluff, Fort Smith and Conway in the wake of the historic flood.

The resource centers are considered a "one-stop shop" for flood survivors, and Janice Mann, incident coordinator for the United Methodist Arkansas Conference disaster response team, said the cooperative spirit is a uniting force among different religions.

"My husband [Byron Mann] and I work [on disaster response] together," Mann said. "The biggest blessing that we get is working with our partnership, because all those walls come down and we are all out there for the same thing, for the same reasons."


Christina Fowler, spokesman for the Arkansas American Red Cross, said the network events lift spirits, especially when people see how many agencies and services are available in one room.

"People walk away feeling hopeful that, yes, I'm going to walk away from this and, yes, I'm going to get help," Fowler said.

"[Our relief efforts] wouldn't work if God wasn't blessing us," said Ike Brighton of Maumelle, a member of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, a nonprofit ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA). "One church can't do it. One denomination can't do it. That's what makes this work. This is the connection."

A collection of shovels leaned against a wall next to stacks of work gloves, sponges and other cleaning supplies Monday at Wesley United Methodist Church in Conway, where more than a dozen tables were manned by state agencies and faith-based disaster relief groups assisting flood victims.

The Rev. Don Fortner, pastor of Little Rock Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said Seventh-Day Adventist churches near Fort Smith and Pine Bluff staffed resource centers in those areas to disburse supplies.

"It's nice [that] everyone has the same goal, to help the people," Fortner said.

Diana Brownlee of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas said that in the past the denomination has paired with Habitat for Humanity to raise money for needs such as washers and dryers, front porches and "a couple of roofs," but that members at Conway's resource center were in part offering gift cards approved by the Rt. Rev. Larry Benfield, the diocese's bishop.

Steve Thomas of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention's disaster relief agency was at Wesley United Methodist Church speaking with those seeking help with flood recovery efforts, such as power-washing houses and spraying for mold. Teams known as Incident Command units are scheduled to visit and assess homeowners' needs and take the supplies and trained volunteers to help.


Large-scale disaster recovery calls for out-of-state assistance, such as the unit that has been stationed at Central Baptist Church in Conway for the past two weeks. Ten members of the unit live in the Conway area and arrive at the church at 6 a.m. to get that day's assignment from their unit leaders. The entrance to the church's community center bears a sign telling church members that the hall is unavailable during disaster relief efforts, in part because it's housing 40 Southern Baptist volunteers from outside the area.

Jerry Renfroe, leader of the disaster recovery unit for the four-county Beech River Baptist Association of Lexington, Tenn., went with about 10 people Monday to work on the flood-damaged house of a single mother with three children.

"It is trying for us and for homeowners," Renfroe, 67, said of the emotional strain involved in disaster relief. "It's always the same, because people don't expect it to happen to them until everything [they own] is boxed up to send [to landfills]."

Renfroe, who is retired, waved away a scrape on his left arm that occurred during that day's volunteering.

"We have to remember Christ died for us, so we can give back of our time and energy in a small way," Renfroe said.

Donna Dennison of Jackson, Tenn., and Becky Collins of Lexington -- members of the Woodland Baptist Disaster Recovery team based in Heywood County, Tenn. -- spent Monday removing nails, taking down walls and carrying out Sheetrock. On Tuesday, they were headed to a house where they were set to remove walls from the floor to the ceiling before removing the ceiling as well because of water damage.


Dennison said many of the people they help are the elderly who can't generally afford to pay to rebuild their houses. Woodland Baptist funds their missions by selling a stew containing chicken, beef and pork that goes for $25 a gallon, she said.

"We get more than we give," Dennison said of the effort.

Jackie Hammons of Mayflower was at the Conway multiagency resource center to apply for disaster relief with two of her three children. Brooklyn, her youngest, turned 6 on Monday.

"We are magnets for natural disaster," Hammons said.

She and her husband, John, were forced to leave their home after an oil pipeline spill in Mayflower in 2013, moving to a mobile home in nearby Saltillo that was wiped out by the tornadoes that tore through the area in 2014.

With FEMA assistance, the family moved back to Mayflower and into a house where floodwaters crept up to the front door in 2015, and a bit higher in 2016.

This time, the area underneath their house flooded.

"The insulation soaked [the water] up like a straw, but we're a lot better off than some of the neighbors," John Hammons said. "Some of them have nothing."

Through it all, he said, their faith was not challenged.


The family received help from a multiagency resource center in 2014, and representatives of nonprofits such as Samaritan's Purse and DREAM -- Dedicating Resources to Excel All Minds, which helps with early childhood education -- stopped by on a daily basis, along with people from New Life Church in Mayflower.

"We keep saying God is good," John Hammons said.

The Rev. Peggy Cromwell, deacon at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Conway, and the Rev. Linda Brown, also of St. Peter's, said the gift cards were available but that the church was mainly there to provide pastoral care, seeing to the emotional and spiritual needs of those reeling from the disaster.

"[Disaster relief] care entails a willingness to listen, and compassionate listening, " Cromwell said. "That's how it starts: 'Tell me what happened.' Or, in a tornado, 'Where were you?'

"You can tell [people] are being brave, but they're tired, and this gives them a chance to deprogram, relax," Cromwell added. "Sometimes, emotions come out."

Those visiting with the Episcopalians were not required to give their name, address, phone number or any personal information beyond how many adults were in their household and what they intended to use the gift cards for.

The only other item involving aid recipients at the resource center was a small steno pad headed with two words: Prayer List.

"It's cathartic for them; it's grace for us," Cromwell said of caring for disaster survivors. "It's exactly what Jesus did. What would Jesus do, literally? Jesus would ... just listen."

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/FRANCISCA JONES
Crystal Murphy steps out of a portable shower at Central Baptist Church in Conway. Murphy and her husband, Justin, are volunteering this week at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention's Incident Command unit, one of many where disaster relief workers can clean up after a day of flood recovery work.
Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/FRANCISCA JONES
Jackie Hammons (left) of Mayflower gives information to a Red Cross disaster relief worker for help after the Arkansas River flooding on June 24. Jackie, her husband, John, and their three children have been greatly affected by the flooding, which hit them after surviving the Mayflower oil pipeline spill in 2013, the tornado that ripped through the town in 2014, and flooding in 2015 and 2016.

Religion on 06/29/2019

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