BATON ROUGE (BP) — Working as part of his church's disaster relief team, Sonny Ellis died while doing what he did best — serving people.
"He was showing the people of Denham Springs, an example of what Jesus would do," said Roy Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church in Satsuma, Alabama.
On Sept. 1, Ellis had just placed a load of laundry in a washing machine with his church's disaster relief laundry unit, which was in operation helping flood survivors of the historic flooding in south Louisiana. A little before lunch, Ellis, 72, lost his balance and fell out of the door of the unit and sustained brain injuries, Hill reported.
Ellis was taken to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge and died later that evening.
"God is still on His throne and Jesus is still Sonny's Savior," Hill wrote on his Facebook page. "We were reminded last night at church that there are times we must prove that we believe what we say we believe. This is one of those times and [the Ellis family] is living out their faith."
John Hebert, Louisiana Baptists Director of Missions and Ministry, was saddened to hear the news.
"I have connected with his family and pastor to express how all Louisiana Baptists are deeply saddened by this news," said Hebert. "Our hearts and prayers are with Mrs. Ellis and her children. We pray our heavenly father will bring them comfort at his passing and the assurance of his eternal destination."
Hebert has asked the family permission to pay to bring his body back to Alabama.
SECOND VOLUNTEER TO DIE THIS YEAR
It was the second Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteer to die in Louisiana this year.
Seventy-seven-year-old Don Fulkerson, an Illinois disaster relief worker, died March 29 while helping mud-out a home in Evans from the flooding in March. Fulkerson, and his wife, Margie, were on their 15th disaster relief trip and would have celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary in April.
The couple were serving with members of the First Baptist Church Galatia Baptist Disaster Relief team in Leesville when he experienced a heart attack.
Ellis' testimony is unique. A close friend and deacon at First Baptist prayed for him and shared the Gospel frequently. It wasn't until about 10 years ago that the Holy Spirit moved in Ellis' heart and he accepted Christ and was baptized, Hill recounted.
"Ever since he got saved, goodness, he's been a whirlwind of serving," Hill said. "He would serve wherever there was a need."
Ellis' wife Gloria, who serves as the church's financial secretary, and their two daughters were able to arrive in Baton Rouge and be with him in the hospital.
Mark Wakefield, disaster relief and chaplaincy ministry strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said Ellis "typifies the sacrifice made by so many disaster relief volunteers. All of them could and would be using their time doing other important things, but they choose involvement in the ministry of disaster relief — serving the Lord by serving others."
The team from First Baptist Satsuma had been serving since Aug. 21 and was stationed at New Covenant Baptist Church in Denham Springs.
After Ellis' death, his family requested that the laundry unit remain in operation to continue to help those in distress after the record flooding.
Hill said the unit would remain as long as there is a need, and volunteers from First Baptist would return to serve at the unit after Ellis' funeral. At press time, volunteers from other Alabama associations were making sure the unit remained operational.
Ellis is survived by his wife, two daughters, three granddaughters and one great-grandson.
With reporting from The Alabama Baptist.