Saturday, October 01, 2005

Hats off to Some Real Ministry

Area group will brave Gulf Coast


Published Saturday, October 01, 2005

A group of about 25 Baptists from throughout central Illinois and the region will head to Wiggins, Miss., armed with chain saws, trucks, pumps, generators and other implements to help clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The group - part of the American Baptist Men ministry, which has been cleaning up natural disaster scenes since 1993 - leaves Sunday and expects to arrive in Wiggins Monday for about a week. They are one of five teams rotating in and out to assist hurricane victims.

Wiggins, about 30 miles north of Gulfport, Miss., sustained heavy wind damage from Katrina but was fortunate not to experience flooding.
Ron Greenfield of Springfield will lead this weekend's delegation, which includes six members of his church, Elliott Avenue Baptist Church, as well as people from Galesburg, Normal, Macomb and Kansas City, Mo.

It is Greenfield's first trip to the region. The fifth team, under the leadership of David Comstock of Lincoln, will leave Oct. 9.

The American Baptist Men has more than a dozen tractor-trailers filled with cleanup supplies and equipment. At least two have been deployed to the Gulf of Mexico region to help, Greenfield said.

Most of the damage in Wiggins stems from downed trees, he said.
"It's a cut-and-tow operation. We just pile them on the curb, then somebody comes by and hauls them off," Greenfield said.

Those traveling to Mississippi have to pay their own way. Some costs, including food, are reimbursed through donations. The group will sleep in an air-conditioned gymnasium at Wiggins High School, which also has shower facilities.

"Because Jesus came, we come. That's kind of our motto. We feel it's something we should do," Greenfield said. "I haven't had to beg to get volunteers."
Frank Sparks of Upper Alton, who returned Wednesday with one of the group's teams, said Greenfield and the others are in for a rewarding experience.
The days start at 5:30 a.m. when everyone wakes up, eats breakfast and heads out. The teams are on their own to scout out locations that need cleanup.
They look to locals to tell them who needs help. Usually, they are on site by 7 a.m., Sparks said, and work until 4:30 p.m.

With 90-degree-plus temperatures and high humidity, "the minute we got back, we head for showers," Sparks said.

Dinner at a nearby Baptist church follows, and lights are out by 9 p.m.
"The people for the most part were lovely people," said Sparks, who was in Mississippi for 10 days. "When you go to leave a site, it was hard for them to let you go. You were tired, but it was a very satisfying feeling because you knew there were people there who were just desperate for help.

"We had a grand time in the sense that when you get a bunch of guys together that are single-minded - we've come here to help; we've come here to work - we didn't have a slacker at all. Everyone came in bone-weary but confident they'd done all they can do."

Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523 or

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