By Josie Bingham
IMMOKALEE—Disaster Relief (DR) unit leader, Rick Merritt, was frustrated. He needed a tool he didn’t have in order to fix the roof on a migrant worker’s trailer in Immokalee, Florida after it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
“I was on the job site at one of our Send Relief trailers looking for something,” Merritt said. “It was hot. The roofs in Immokalee are metal. Even when we head out early to defeat the heat, the work is tiring. But, something really cool happened.”
A gentleman walked by and stopped right where Merritt was. He asked, “Are you the Christians that are working on the houses?” Merritt told him they were, and they had a conversation that progressed rather quickly.
“I asked him if he knew about Jesus,” said Merritt. “He said, ‘No, I’m a sinner.’ But I told him we are all sinners including us who were working on the houses. He was amazed that someone unclean could have Jesus, and he accepted Christ right there.”
Merritt’s prior heat exhaustion dissipated. He realized God had each and every volunteer in Immakolee for a reason—to be a light where darkness could have reigned. And as the days turned to weeks, many more DR volunteers began to share their most memorable stories.
Doug DuBois, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) state director for Delaware/Maryland, collected story after story from fellow DR volunteers.
“Last week, we encountered a man named Jimmy who was retired from working a tomato farm in Immokalee,” DuBois said. “Jimmy walked us through a neighborhood of 14 mobile homes to talk to everyone. We prayed and shared the gospel with all of them. When Jimmy heard it, he knelt down in the middle of the street and prayed.”
DuBois made a point to visit his new friend, Jimmy, every day afterwards.
Children in need
“Immokalee is 75 percent Hispanic,” said DuBois. “But most of the children speak English and can bridge the language barrier for volunteers.”
For DuBois’ friend and fellow DR volunteer, David Gass, the children were his most memorable thing about serving in Immokalee.
“We brought a laundry unit down,” said Gass, a member of First Baptist Church (FBC) Upper Marlboro in Md. “The last stop we had today was the most memorable. I was sitting there telling Bible stories because the parents spoke Spanish, and I spoke very broken Spanish. But the kids spoke English! And the parents were very cool with me telling stories to the kids.”
“I was telling Bible stories that I remember hearing as a kid,” Gass said. “Telling them about the little light they can let shine, and we tried to sing songs.”
Gass connected with a 13-year-old boy, Victor, who heard the gospel during story time. Gass encouraged Victor to share it with his parents.
“This is real important stuff, and I knew I would have help from a teammate filling in the language gaps,” said Gass. “God gives us hope in all we do, and I really didn’t want to leave.”
New experiences for volunteers
FBC Upper Marlboro members, Israel Gallegos (more commonly known to players and friends as ‘Coach Izzy,’) and his wife, Wendy, are no strangers to children, yet their volunteer experiences pushed them outside their norm, especially for Wendy.
“We went to visit a woman named Christina who has three kids and had just lost her entire trailer and everything in it,” Wendy said. “Doug DuBois and his team had reached her neighborhood with the gospel last week, but there was nothing anyone could do about her trailer. It was gone. Instead, they offered to take her to First Baptist Immokalee where she could get diapers.”
This was where Wendy first chatted with Christina.
“I shared the gospel with her over diapers,” said Wendy. “Christina accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior despite the fact we couldn’t bring back her trailer. We are going to pick her up for church at 10 o’clock. It’s amazing. She might have lost everything, but she gained everything today.”
It was Wendy’s first time to lead someone to Christ in Spanish.
“Yes, it’s Florida and 99 degrees, and there are metal roofs and it’s very tiring,” DuBois said. “But the work in Immokalee is a cross between storm damage and poverty ministry. This is the best way to show how Southers Baptist Disaster Relief and Send Relief work together to provide for people spiritually and physically.”
DuBois oversaw seven units and 34 volunteers during the week of Sept.18-25, including: four recovery units from Lynnhaven Baptist, the Potomac Baptist Association, Blue Ridge Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCMD), one shower unit from Ocean City Baptist Church, one laundry unit from FBC Upper Marlboro and one feeding unit from BCMD to serve Hurricane Irma survivors in Immokalee.
It’s not all just hard work,” DuBois said. “These are memorable times you can have with other people to spread the gospel and love the lost or hurting.”
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Josie Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.