By Caleb Mynatt
As the winds stirred and the sky turned to black on August 27, 2020, the citizens of Lake Charles, La., were confronted with a reality that is all too familiar.
Hurricanes hitting the Louisiana coast have become an almost annual occurrence these days, but not often does a Hurricane Laura, a Category Four storm, barrel towards the Gulf Coast. The residents of this small city in the southeast part of the state prepared for the worst, and also readied to start a clean-up process that has become far too common.
Then, only six weeks later, Hurricane Delta made landfall in almost the exact same place. With the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and National Baptist Convention of America International, Inc. (NBCA) already at work providing relief and recovery in Lake Charles, Baton Rouge’s Broadmoor Baptist Church found partners to plug in with.
“We decided to partner with CBF Louisiana’s connection, the National Baptist Convention of America (NBCA),” explained Broadmoor pastor Leonard Ezell. “There was a previous relationship from flooding in our area in 2016, so we decided to go that direction in finding a partner.”
Under the discretion and guidance of the NBCA, Broadmoor has donated more than $7,500 to the Lake Charles relief effort, providing “cleanup buckets” and other materials that will help rebuild houses, fix powerlines and restore the infrastructure of Lake Charles. There is a desire in the Broadmoor congregation to assist in the Lake Charles rebuilding effort, primarily because of previously existing reciprocal relationships.
“We have several people in our congregation who have either worked in Lake Charles or are from Lake Charles,” Ezell said. “We wanted to make an impact, which is why we had so many connections we could have worked with. We just had the strongest connection with the NBCA from their help with the flood four years ago. We wanted to not only help our neighbors but also return the favor.”
For NBCA, the damage to Lake Charles hit very close to home. The president of the National Baptist Convention of America International, Dr. Samuel C. Tolbert, Jr., is the pastor at Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, and Greater St. Mary is one of the integral churches in the organization that has more than 3.5 million members worldwide. And, according to the people on the ground, there is also work outside of Lake Charles to be done.
“There are lots of other little cities around Lake Charles such as Westlake, Sulphur and Iowa, that felt the worst of Hurricane Laura and, later, Hurricane Delta,” said LaConya Caesar, who serves as the local response coordinator jointly contracted by CBF Disaster Response and NBCA and is a member of Greater St. Mary. “There is a lot to be done, but CBF is known for going around and helping with disaster relief.”
The operation on the ground, according to Caesar, is extensive. She is responsible for orchestrating the import and distribution of supplies, coordinating truck drop-offs, assigning teams and other relief-based work. There are a lot of moving parts and it is admittedly a very large project. Even with the many supplies they are receiving from the communities around them, there is still a long road ahead.
“Our area was hit hard, and I don’t think a lot of people realize how hard it was hit,” Caesar said. “We’ve been without power for a long time; there are powerlines lining the street and there’s limited housing. It’s going to take a while to get back to normal.”
Caesar is also responsible for assisting registered volunteer teams with the logistics of engaging recovering neighborhoods and to facilitate their lodging needs. For volunteers looking for a low-cost, COVID-19-safe location to stay, housing arrangements are available at the United Methodist Church in nearby Merryville, La., where a CBF Arkansas shower trailer is being relocated. Alexandra Geovanni, a CBF-endorsed chaplain, serves as pastor there.
Although the members of Broadmoor Baptist Church want to continue to help in the relief effort, doing hands-on work in the area has become increasingly difficult. With much of their volunteer base being senior adults, the current COVID-19 pandemic presents legitimate obstacles—not only for the people who want to help the Lake Charles community, but the Lake Charles community itself. Between that, and the younger volunteers having work, school and other obligations, finding the time and the personnel to make the 3.5-hour drive from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles has become difficult.
“COVID-19 is keeping people from doing work in our own community, but our young adults are trying to stay involved right now,” Ezell said. “The people of Lake Charles are our neighbors, and we really want to help them out as much as we can. They’ve helped us in the past, and many of our members have family in the area. These supplies will help a lot, and we want to continue to be there if needed.”
This article appeared in the Winter 2020-21 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.