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Ike creates need for long-term church-to-church partnerships

October 8th, 2008 at 2:46 pm

BEAUMONT – New Beginnings Church is hoping it can live up to its name.

Hurricane Ike scattered the congregation, sending members evacuating to safer ground. The storm pulled some of the siding off the church’s building, creating a hole through which rain poured. It also blew away one of the church’s signs and mangled the other.

Weeks later, the church’s fellowship hall still has storm damage and mold on the walls. Worship attendance has not returned to pre-Ike levels and some of the members have decided to move away from the coast.

A decrease in giving has accompanied the decrease in attendance, creating a challenge for the church to pay all of its bills. Pastor Billy Ray Harper has gone without a salary since the storm, receiving only $1,000 from the Baptist General Convention of Texas through the Golden Triangle Baptist Association.

And Harper considers his congregation blessed. At least the church can still meet in its facilities, while many cannot. Harper believes with a little financial help, New Beginnings can be back to where it was in about three months.

“That’s what I’m praying for – that God will provide some assistance from somewhere, somehow,” he said.

The BGCT is attempting to help New Beginnings find those resources by partnering congregations that were not affected by Hurricane Ike with those that were. More than 300 BGCT-affiliated congregations were affected by Ike.

The BGCT is providing $80,000 to Baptist associations for relief work, but at least 70 congregations could benefit from long-term church-to-church partnerships to speed up the recovery process, according to Carolyn Porterfield, who is leading the BGCT’s church-to-church partnership efforts.

Twenty-one congregations already have stepped up to help Southeast Texas churches in their time of need, but more are needed.

“We have a lot more churches who need help than we have churches who have said they will help,” Porterfield said. “Some of these churches need immediate help. We need more churches to partner with us.”

The needs of each congregation vary, but the primary resource churches seem to need is encouragement, Porterfield said. Many of the church members and leaders are tired from long days helping their families and helping others. They continue dealing with the stress of living in the wake of the hurricane.

“These churches need someone to walk with them for months, maybe even a couple years, depending on the situation,” she said.

The recovery process calls for Texas Baptists to do what they do best, Porterfield said. If churches cannot commit to a longer partnership, they may be able to take a weekend mission trip or donate items. To facilitate the donation of items and coordination of teams, Golden Triangle Baptist Association has set up a web site, www.relief4ike.org.

“Texas Baptists are at their best when they see a need and meet it,” Porterfield said. “In the wake of Ike, people and entire churches are hurting and struggling to rebuild their lives. This is a prime opportunity to share the hope of Christ with people in need.”

To partner with a church affected by Hurricane Ike, visit www.bgct.org/disaster. BGCT staff members will match churches based on the needs of one congregation and the resources of another.

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