by Dan Doolin, Pastor, Solid Rock Baptist Church, Wapello, IA
In late October, 2012, Hurricane Sandy (unofficially known as “Superstorm Sandy”) made landfall along the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states. Particularly severe damage occurred in New Jersey and New York when the storm made landfall on October 29th. Major flooding of the streets, subways, and tunnels occurred with thousands of people losing their utilities, along with major damage to their homes from wind and flooding waters. “Sandy” became the second deadliest and most destructive hurricane in U.S. history with damage estimated at $65 billion.
Following the storm, a major response came from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many volunteers, supplies, and support of the local churches, associations, and state conventions responded to help those in need and to share the love of Jesus. After the initial response, the North American Mission Board made a two year commitment to help the residents, specifically in New York, to rebuild homes and lives in what was termed, Hurricane Sandy Rebuild. Hundreds of skilled as well as unskilled building trade volunteers have since responded to the rebuild effort.
On December 1, 2013, a group of nine volunteers from Solid Rock Baptist Church in Wapello, IA, along with Dave Wieling from Grace West Church in Des Moines, responded to Long Island to work with the staff at the Sandy Rebuild Base Camp located at Calvary Church in Baldwin, N.Y. The team left Solid Rock Baptist Church immediately after church on December 1, following a commissioning service during the worship hour, and arrived at Calvary Church in Baldwin on Monday evening, December 2.
Following a brief night’s rest, work began on Tuesday, December 3, on two homes in the Massapequa area. Because the team consisted of four professional contractors specializing in framing, siding and windows, finish carpentry, and drywall, two homes were assigned to the Solid Rock Team. The first home was owned by a middle aged woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer right after Hurricane Sandy hit. The lower level of her home was destroyed from water damage caused by wind, rain, and flooding. The second home was owned by an elderly man who suffered major damage to his home from flooding in addition to a major health problem requiring ongoing kidney dialysis. The trim carpentry crew installed 900 square feet of manufactured hardwood flooring with base trim in two and half days of work in the first home. The drywall crew began drywall finish work on the 1300 square foot single story home and completed the work in five days, having the home ready for priming and painting by the paint crew that followed , a youth group from Florida. Along with the drywall finish, extension jambs for the windows were made, trimmed, and installed. The elderly gentleman, the owner of this home, has been living in a motel room since he lost his home in October, 2012.
Half of the Solid Rock Team returned to Iowa on Sunday, December 8, with Pastor Dan Doolin, Tanner Doolin, Gene Helmig, and Dave Wieling staying behind to work on a third home. The owner of the third home, an 82 year old woman by the name of Bobby, shared a harrowing story of how she and her invalid husband endured the storm. The flood waters came to the second story of their home and she was not able to move her husband before the storm made landfall. Windows were replaced in this home and the drywall was finished in the basement. A fire door was also put on the boiler room and priming was done on the finished drywall. Bobby shared with the crew on the last day of work, that “You have made my house look like a home again.”
But the story is not about the homes. It is about the hope that people are finding as the SBC work teams come to interact with the residents of New York. Bobby said it best when Pastor Dan asked her if she had ever asked Jesus into her life. Her reply was this, “I have always believed in God, but since I have come to meet you Southern Baptists, I decided that I wanted to be like you.” When further asked about her faith in Christ, Bobby responded by saying, “I have come to know Jesus since meeting you as Southern Baptists.”
A dedicated church member at Solid Rock, Ann Kauffman, a talented single woman that works multiple jobs to support herself and gives out of a sacrificial heart to her Lord, Jesus Christ, crocheted three wall hangings with the word “Welcome.” These were mounted in a frame as gifts that were to be given to the owners of the homes as a reminder that God loves them. These gifts were inspired by Pastor David Platt and his teaching entitled, “Radical”, which challenged a small group she attends at Solid Rock. Ann’s contribution proves that you can be part of a Disaster Relief Team without leaving the front door of your home.
There is another side story worth mentioning, because it has God written all over it. Seven years ago, Gene Helmig, better known as “Cowboy,” walked into his pastor’s office and shared that he had just received a terminal diagnosis of cancer and was given 18 months to live. Following that diagnosis, Cowboy received treatment at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, and trusted in the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 which states, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” This past fall, Cowboy was taken off his cancer treatment drugs because his cancer is in remission. Cowboy celebrates the life that God continues to give to him, knowing that God has a greater purpose for him. Cowboy, an Iowa Farmer, transported the team’s luggage and tools with his truck and trailer. Because of his past experience of travel throughout the metropolitan cities of the East Coast, he was one of the main drivers for the Solid Rock Team. Cowboy was part of the trim crew that installed flooring and trim in the home of the woman who is also a cancer survivor.
It is also worth mentioning that three of the Solid Rock Team members are survivors of the 2008 eastern Iowa flood. Each of these team members lost their homes when the flood waters came and they initially received help from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units working out of Solid Rock in Wapello. These three, Nancy Hodges, Wes Wehage, and Marvin Bedding, journeyed to New York to pay forward the help that they received in 2008.
Each of the team members helped pay their way out to the East Coast, along with funds collected from Solid Rock and a Disaster Relief Grant received from the Baptist Convention of Iowa Disaster Relief funds. The average work day for the team started at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast, followed by a bag lunch at noon, and dinner with the Sandy Rebuild Team in the evening around 5:30 p.m. Because the team worked with an Iowa work ethic, some of the team members would work 12 to 14 hours to complete their jobs.
In the end, homes were rebuilt, lives were changed, and everyone was reminded of the promise that Cowboy lives with, Jeremiah 29:11