By Sharon Mager
POCOMOKE, Md. — Lynnhaven Baptist Church, (LBC) in Pocomoke, Md., was faced with a difficult decision in the fall of 2018. They were ready to start the multi-month process of creating their annual “Walk Through Bethlehem,”—a live nativity which draws more than 3,500 people from every corner of the state and beyond, easily their most significant outreach. They had to choose between producing the nativity or sending a disaster relief (DR) team to Pollocksville, North Carolina, an area that was devastated by Hurricane Florence. They couldn’t do both.
“I love ‘Bethlehem,’ and it’s a major outreach for our church,” says LBC Senior Pastor Kerry Hinton. “We asked the church… and they were unanimous that we needed to go help people.” With the support of the whole church, Lynnhaven’s DR team drove south to Pollocksville to provide the needed relief.
Pollocksville Baptist Church was dealing with extreme flooding and couldn’t hold services for an extended period, which,
according to Hinton, can take a significant toll on the congregation, as well as the finances, in any church body. The church also had no electricity, so the men on the team slept on cots at the local firehouse while the women slept in a converted barn. During the day, they worked nonstop clearing out debris from the church basement. Hinton, who grew up in a town near Pollocksville, in Jones County, ran into an old friend from middle school. As they reconnected, he discovered his friend and family lived “in the shadow of the church’s steeple” but never stepped foot inside. Although Hinton’s friend wasn’t interested in spiritual matters, the man’s wife and grandchildren did respond and began faithfully attending church services and according to Hinton’s contacts months after the team left, they haven’t missed a week. “When you do DR job you are always representing the local church,” says Hinton. “I try to do a good job of that.”
He still prays for the friend to take a step and visit First Baptist Church of Pollocksville. “I think he’s going to end up there one day,” says Hinton. Hinton’s connection to the church in Pollocksville was catalytic for the BCM/D’s DR team who coordinated a response to the need. While Hinton’s group cleaned out basements, another team led by Alan Caho, a leader in the Eastern Baptist Association, arrived with chainsaws to remove debris.
No matter what they’re doing, the Holy Spirit is always at work in their DR deployments. “We always see ‘God sightings’ wherever we go,” Hinton says. “Sometimes it’s not the people we’re helping—it’s the neighbors.”
One neighbor interaction particularly stands out in Hinton’s mind. He and his team were helping an elderly woman in a damaged home in West Virginia. The job was filled with many emotional and logistical challenges. Throughout the day, the team noticed a man across the street watching them. One team member went across the road to engage the neighbor, inviting him to meet the team, and see what they were doing but the man refused.
At the end of the day, Hinton was discouraged with the job and the challenges and recalls specifically praying that he would be assigned elsewhere the next day.
“With all my heart I didn’t want to go back to that job, but somehow we ended up in the same place,” he says, not knowing God’s purpose at the time.
As the team started unloading, the neighbor who had watched them the day before crossed the street to speak with Hinton.
“He said, ‘I wanted to talk to you yesterday and couldn’t, so I prayed, please send those yellow-shirt people back.’”
Hinton and his team shared the Gospel with the man and that day he prayed to accept Christ. The man was also dealing with damage to his home, so the team worked to assist him. “I still keep in touch with him to this day,” says Hinton.
In addition to helping victims of disasters and their neighbors, Hinton enjoys the opportunity to build deep bonds with members of his church who travel with him. He said that it is often life-changing for volunteers when they work on damaged homes and they see people’s entire lives condensed down to a few boxes or bags on their front lawns.
“The last trip I was on, a man I was helping with pointed to less than a dozen boxes and said ‘that’s all I have left from 41 years of marriage’.”
He also recalls a trip to Vermont when an octogenarian woman had to throw away a beloved keepsake—her wedding dress, saved for decades. It was hard on the DR team to watch this woman let her precious gown go.
“Part of the job is just sitting with people and letting them tell their stories,” said Hinton. He mentioned that often people would see major pieces of their lives destroyed, including special toys or outfits that belonged to their children, memories from their marriages, and other special family belongings.
“I think that’s where the church needs to be when something has gone wrong—we need to be there for people. We need to be the church instead of just going to church. That’s where my heart is,” he says emphatically. “I like helping people… some may think I’m crazy, but I’d rather put on a tool belt and do this than sit behind a desk.”
BCM/D Community Engagement Consultant Ellen Udovich received assistance from Hinton and his team in the summer of 2018 when she and a group worked tirelessly to help victims of multiple floods in the spring and summer of 2018.
“We received a call about a woman who needed help in Oella, and we were running out of volunteers west of the Bay. Her basement was flooded in the Ellicott City flood, and we learned about it late in summer. The mold was everywhere,” Udovich said. She and longtime DR worker George Blevins were trying to finish some the final jobs by themselves.
When Hinton heard about the situation, he and a DR team from LBC drove more than six hours roundtrip to lend a hand.
“If there’s anything he can do to help you, he’ll get it done for you. He has a servant’s heart,” Udovich said, adding that after the team did the hard work they had to travel back home and then Hinton had to get up and preach the next day.
Though a naturally soft-spoken gentleman, Hinton gets an urgency and passion to his voice when he speaks about disaster relief.
“Each trip is unique in its own way. Often, people don’t have time for you or your message, but when there’s a disaster, it’s a completely different situation,” Hinton says. “I’ve seen many people accept Jesus Christ because we’re there to help them. For many, it’s the first time they’ve listened to the message.”
If you, or your church, are interested in learning more about disaster relief, visit bcmd.org/disaster-relief.