'Love where you live' shown to S.C. storm survivors

FLORENCE, S.C. (BP) -- Dwight Herring didn't know the men and women standing next to him as they prepared to make the drive from Greenwood, S.C., across the state to Florence, S.C., on Oct. 14 to serve Hurricane Matthew survivors. As a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) unit leader, Herring was used to calling complete strangers -- trained volunteers in his region -- and trusting God with the outcome.

"We were going to set up feeding units at Hoffmeyer Road Baptist Church with only three volunteers in my unit," Herring said. "I thought, 'Wow, three people to feed a mass of Hurricane Matthew survivors?' But I knew if I showed up, God would show up. So we went."

The little brick church, surrounded by South Carolina's native palmetto trees, was filled with staff who welcomed the short-handed SBDR crew with open arms, exhibiting the church motto, "Love where you live."

Two days prior to the SBDR crew's arrival, Hoffmeyer Road Baptist Church, located in Florence, had hosted a battery company truck where people without power could charge their phones. Associate pastor Georgia Atkins commented on how the leadership at Hoffmeyer, including deacons and pastors, created the "Love where you live" mantra as a reminder that their church must be a place that meets the diverse needs in their community.

"We're always brainstorming how to do that," Atkins said. "So when a disaster comes around or an opportunity rises where we can be of service, we want to help. That's why our senior pastor [Greg Batchelor] had the [battery] truck come in while our own building was flooded. And it's why we leapt at the chance to be a cook site for disaster relief."

To date, SBDR volunteers have presented the Gospel more than 200 times during their service to survivors of Hurricane Matthew and have seen 37 people respond by placing their faith in Christ for salvation. Additionally, volunteers have prepared 350,671 meals, completed 1,059 loads of laundry, provided 3,460 showers, completed 487 chainsaw jobs and finished 89 temporary roofing jobs, among other ministry.

Hoffmeyer Road deacon Mike Suttles believes the church is exactly what and where God wants it to be -- right in the middle of Florence.

"The hurricane came in very quickly," Suttles said. "No one was expecting it to be so damaging, yet, afterwards, we had so many trees knock out power. But because we're centrally located, we got a call about being a cook station for disaster relief. We were thrilled. Disaster Relief is an opportunity to live out the motto, 'Love where you live,' and make Jesus' presence known in the community."

For five days, Herring and his crew worked alongside members of the church, where 11,000 meals were prepared for Hurricane Matthew survivors.

"The church staff and members were truly awesome," Herring said. "They let us to stay in the youth house and recruited more volunteers for us. They seemed like the kind of people who weren't afraid to step up and fill the roles that needed to be filled. They became part of our efforts, immediately."

Many Hoffmeyer members took to Facebook, posting about the need for more kitchen crew volunteers. The effort succeeded -- at each meal there were more than enough volunteers.

"God showed up through the people at Hoffmeyer Road Baptist Church," Herring said. "They are terrific examples of people finding a way to serve others no matter the obstacle. They reached out online and spread the word about needing volunteers to prepare meals so the Red Cross could feed the people of Florence, Dillon, Latta and Nichols counties, too. We were never short a day because God showed up and provided for us through this church."

Suttles was just as in awe about God's ability to use "all kinds of people from all over the state," who had gathered at his church.

"Dwight Herring came in wearing this blue hat with his disaster relief kitchen crew in tow," Suttles said. "And they were great. Then, there were some ladies from Greenville and Summersville who drove all the way over to help, as well as some local Baptist disaster relief people who just happened to have the right feeding and clean-up equipment in town. It was really neat to see Baptists and everyone come together."

Suttles, who had never worked with SBDR crews before, enlisted in Herring's team for the week.

"I've never worked up close with disaster relief teams," Suttles said. "But it was cool to see how things got done. It was a bit rough at first because, like I said, we weren't expecting this much response to be needed up here but, by day five, we were running like a machine."

The feeding crew at Hoffmeyer Road Baptist Church worked a full week of 12-hour shifts.

"We were all exhausted," Suttles said. "But this community is a lot better now than it was. The South Carolina Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crew worked really hard. I met new people and they cared about us -- total strangers. I saw, in all the devastation, God's blessing."

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."

Josie Rabbitt writes for the North American Mission Board.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP).
Download Story