Baptist Global Response
By MARC IRA HOOKS
BELGRADE, SERBIA — While most will spend their summer vacations on beaches, in amusement parks, or traveling to other exotic locations, a handful of Southern Baptists are spending their time knee-deep in mud and muck helping rebuild lives that were destroyed by floodwaters.
This summer unusual amounts of rain in the Balkan region of Europe — specifically in Bosnia and Serbia — have caused devastating floods, leaving thousands homeless and wondering about how to begin rebuilding their lives. Their stories of how floodwaters broke through local dams, leaving residents with only minutes to evacuate, are tragic and heartbreaking. Today these flood victims spend their days sorting through the remnants of their lives, searching for anything that can be salvaged.
“It was devastating,” said Marina through her tears. “When I got here and saw what remained of my house, my whole world collapsed. I could not believe it. I had a nice house and a nice life, but now I am left with nothing.”
Marina, a widow with two teenage boys, represents just one of dozens of families in an area outside of Belgrade where Baptist Global Response (BGR) volunteers, alongside International Mission Board (IMB) workers, who are helping people to salvage and rebuild their lives following this natural disaster.
IMB worker Jim Andrews* has helped to coordinate much of the cleanup and recovery work in the area. “People here are at a point of desperation,” he said. “They are grabbing at straws, or whatever they can, for hope.” Andrews says that is where the work of BGR comes in — providing not just money and resources, but helping to activate and coordinate volunteers who are trained in disaster response to come to the field on short notice.
Jim and Samantha (Sam) Barrow, a father-daughter team from Longville, Louisiana, said they heard about the need for volunteers while they were attending a wedding for a friend. “In the middle of the wedding we both got an email that came to our phones,” Sam, said. “So, when we were on the way to the reception I looked at Dad and said, ‘So, are we going?’” Before the wedding was over they decided they would commit to go and the pair had less than two weeks to raise funding before flying to Serbia.
Gary Capshaw, a veteran of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief efforts served as team leader for the BGR volunteer team. “If you want to see the church come alive, come and do disaster relief,” he said. “If you don’t get off your pew and get out into the field then you will never know how alive the church is.”
Capshaw and the Barrows were joined by David and Joanne Hendon of Jasper, Alabama who recently retired and decided they would go on mission trips as a couple. Joanne said she has always felt her spiritual gift was to serve others. “When I found out about this need I knew that I was supposed to be the hands of feet of Jesus,” she said.
Andrews said the group spent a week in less than ideal conditions as they helped numerous families. “When the flood waters came, they also overflowed the sewage system,” he said. “So it was not just the water that came into people’s homes, it was sewage too. There was almost nothing that could be salvaged because of that.”
“I had never really been part of a mud-out project like this before,” Andrews said. “So, I really did not know what to expect. These folks who came had to do some really disgusting stuff. And yet, they did it with a smile on their faces.”
Marina and others whom the teams have helped said they have trouble understanding why a group of Americans would want to come to Serbia to help them. Yet, they are grateful for the assistance.
“I don’t know what we would have done if they had not come,” Marina said. “I will always remember the day the Americans showed up to help.”
Andrews said that disaster relief plays an important part of missions work. “Some of these people feel like they don’t really have a place on the mission field,” he said. “But they can open doors that we would never have had access to without these folks who are just willing to come and get their hands dirty.”
Capshaw challenges other Southern Baptists to join him in disaster relief. “Don’t stay in the church! Get out here and work!” he said. “This is fun. If you can’t have fun serving the Lord, then just stay home.”
* Name changed for security purposes.