WAPELLO, Iowa Christian groups are on the front lines of relief efforts in America's flood-ravaged Midwest and workers on the scene say they are seeing God at work in people's lives.
Solid Rock Baptist Church in Wapello, Iowa, is one of a half-dozen "Ground Zero" locations in Iowa, where tens of thousands have been forced from their homes by floodwaters that caused more than $1.5 billion in damage.
Solid Rock's pastor, Dan Doolin, is multi-tasking.
"The Red Cross designated our church as a shelter site and we have about 20 people in residence right now," Doolin said. "We also have been designated as a Red Cross feeding site. Mud-out teams from Texas and a shower unit from Arkansas got here yesterday. Now we have a laundry unit coming, I believe, from Oklahoma. We have been helping people with their FEMA applications and chaplains from our Iowa disaster relief units are helping people with their spiritual and emotional needs."
Many families in the town of 2,100 on the Mississippi River had to get out quickly, leaving belongings and even pets behind, Doolin said. Church members responded by purchasing toothbrushes, toothpaste, underwear, T-shirts, deodorant "all the kind of stuff you need to survive," he said. Local businesses also have donated personal items and the church converted its nursery into a storage room where displaced families can pick up items. Several churches in town have been collecting clothing at a Methodist church across town.
About 20 members of Solid Rock are trained in disaster relief and they mobilized immediately to open up their feeding unit. Their meal count grew steadily over several days as volunteers flooded into the area to help with sandbagging efforts. The team even delivered meals to a crew reinforcing a levee in Oakville, about 11 miles downriver.
"The people wouldn't come off to eat, they were so engaged in the fight [against the floodwaters]," Doolin said. "On the third day of feeding our count jumped to 1,000 meals because we started feeding down in Des Moines County, the next county down, as they sandbagged there."
In Des Moines, Iowa, True Bible Baptist Church have linked arms with other relief teams to help families in the Birdland Park area, where more than 200 homes and 35 businesses were evacuated when a levee gave way.
"A mud-out team will be setting up shop here," said Rod Bradley, the congregation's pastor. "We have been meeting people in the Birdland Park area, telling them about what we will be able to do and making appointments for when the crew gets here. We also had opportunities to share the Gospel and have prayer with people at a shelter. We're trying to do all we can to make sure their needs are met."
Bradley said they are seeing God use the disaster to actually help people. One homeless couple had been moving from shelter to shelter and living in a tent. In the aftermath of the flood, however, they will have an opportunity to move into an apartment.
"I thought that was a joy, to be able to know that even in devastation God is still blessing people," Bradley said. "We can see Him in everything that is going on around us. We just need to get involved in what He is doing."
Back in Wapello, Doolin also sees God at work amid the devastation.
"We have seen people find hope. Sunday was a very powerful time," he said. "We came together to worship and at the end I asked people to form small prayer groups. They came together hugging and crying and praying. People are growing in their faith."
The threat of disaster continues to move southward. Floodwaters have broken through two levees in western Illinois and also threaten river towns in Missouri. The Mississippi River is expected to crest about 15 feet above flood stage at Quincy, Ill., and Hannibal, Mo., close to the level of the devastating flood that swept the area in 1993, the Associated Press reported.
Rick Seaton, the Missouri Baptist Convention's disaster relief director, said flooding there isn't too big a problem yet.
"We are making preparations for a possible call out if there is flooding in Missouri," Seaton said. "At the present time, we are asking people to let us know if they can respond for mass care, probably in eastern Missouri. The response could begin as early as this weekend and could continue for a period of time."Three of Missouri's disaster relief units have been mobilized out of state, Seaton noted. A mud-out crew is working in Wisconsin and a chainsaw crew is working in Michigan, while a feeding unit has been sent to Wapello, Iowa. A Missouri-based child-care unit also is preparing to deploy to Wapello.