Editors’ Note: This is one of a series of articles, which focus on the disaster response from Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware churches affected by the devastating floods on May 27. Stay tuned for the other stories.
By Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE – Constance Smith has been a resident in the community of Beechfield for over 31 years. Her neighbor Dale Collins has lived there for 11 years. Both were completely caught off guard when severe flooding devastated their West Baltimore neighborhood on May 27.
By the time Smith left church, ate lunch, and got to her house, the rain was really coming down, she told Scott Isbell of The Broken Wall Project (BWP), a church plant in West Baltimore.
“I went into my house, changed clothes, turnt around, and there was river,” she exclaimed, describing the unfolding scene: “There was trash cans, lawn chairs, and even a dog floating down the street.”
Collins couldn’t even cross the street, Smith said.
“Yes, I was in my car for two hours,” said Collins, explaining a tow-truck driver attempted to bring her across the street. “But the water was gushing so fast, I couldn’t get out!”
She recalled, “It was a really scary situation. We had a storm in 2016, but it was nothing like this.”
In 2016, a severe storm flooded several lower-lying areas west of Baltimore and caused significant damage to the historic downtown area of Ellicott City.
But this storm seemed much worse, again devastating Ellicott City, but also many homes and businesses all down Frederick Avenue, extending through Baltimore City and Catonsville.
“It should be called Frederick River now!” said Smith, whose backyard completely was filled with water “like a swimming pool.” She had four feet of water in her basement, where she lost everything. The water pressure was so hard that it knocked the hinges off her basement door. Her appliances—washer, dryer, hot water heater—all were knocked over. Oil leaked everywhere.
“The smell was devastating,” she said.
Even so, she expressed gratitude for local pastors Pastor Mike Martin, of Stillmeadow Community Church, Pastor Ron Willoughby of The Broken Wall Project (soon to be called Broken Wall Community Church), and Pastor David Franklin, Miracle City Church, and for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, among others, who came to survey the damage and are working to clean up the basement.
Collins, too, expressed thanksgiving for the “volunteers who are professionals” who also surveyed her basement and damaged belongings.
“If it weren’t for that, I don’t know what I would do!” Collins said. “It’s been rough. But God has sent other angels from other ways to actually help us.”
“It just makes my heart overflow with love and for the people that are really helping us,” agreed Smith. I mean, we’re not getting the coverage like Ellicott City. But these are people’s lives. People are struggling homeowners, renters, you know, just trying to be a productive citizen in the country, in the city.”
She added, “It kind of makes you think tomorrow’s not promised and all of this stuff can be gone. And even you! … [Y]ou think about people in our countries that are suffering and you can you say, ‘God, let me stop and thank You.’”
See full interview here:
Willoughby described the “Frederick Avenue Flood of 2018” in his email newsletter to his prayer partners: “At 3 p.m. on May 27, what was supposed to be a 30 percent chance of rain came as a deluge. In a matter of an hour, storm drains were backing up in the streets. By 4:30, roads were flooded. And by 5:15, Frederick Avenue, a major thoroughfare in our community, was a river.”
Turning his attention to where he ministers, he offered, “I don’t feel the need to spell out what this kind of disaster means for people who live in substandard housing or who already live by a thread. Nor do I need to spend too much time telling you of the frustration of trying to get people to notice our community and the lives that have been wrecked, the scraps of equity washed away, and the need for people to care about us.”
Perhaps, it was “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) that Willoughby felt God’s leading to name the church he planted in 2014, The Broken Wall Project. The moniker is based on Ephesians 2:14, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
The church, which gathers to worship at North Bend Elementary School, immediately responded to the crisis, said Emily Isbell, a mission strategist who serves BWP by overseeing community partnerships, cultivating relationships, and caring for people.
Like the rest of the BWP’s leadership, she has a passion for spiritual restoration and development, and a God-given desire to build a thriving diverse community of faith.
Prior to the flooding, BWP already had an established partnership with Stillmeadow Community Fellowship, in the neighborhood where much of the severe flooding occurred.
Stillmeadow opened doors to emergency crews, volunteers, and representatives from many different agencies who were on hand to assist as needed for the residents.
Willoughby’s role “and one of his giftings,” said Isbell, was meeting new people, connecting with them, building rapport and most importantly, advocating for their community.
“As a church, we recognize we have to stand up for our community to ensure the needs of those who live there are being heard,” Isbell said, noting Willougby’s great ability to keep pressing the local politicians for more.
“Yes, we have had a disaster but what do we do now?” he asks.
Meanwhile, Isbell has been working with Jesse Florida, associate pastor of Metanoia Church, another partner church, and other churches as well as the BCM/D’s Disaster Relief; Team Rubicon, an organization of military veterans who deploy emergency response teams; the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), who offers emergency relief and development programs.
She also is managing volunteers, who are organizing data gathered from multiple teams who assessed the damage. They are now combining the lists and adding them to a collaborative online database to better coordinate the response, which now includes debris removal, tear down of damage, and mold remediation. Once damaged materials are removed, they will help with rebuild.
Right now, according to the database, there are 125 entries – which represents 125 homes – primarily in Baltimore City and Catonsville, with a few from Ellicott City. She’s concerned about those who have not yet registered.
“Many of them are used to not being acknowledged and helped, so they don’t expect—or even know—they can get help,” she said.
Many live in the basements of buildings occupied by other residents. One such family has continued to stay in the wet basement. It’s been a week since the flood, and they are just now hearing there is help, she said.
Some residents feel they have no right to tell their landlords what to do. With no written record of rent payments, one resident, who once was homeless, feels stuck in the house with wet carpet. She has asthma.
Those kind of stories compel BWP and its partners to take action.
“All people are created in God’s image and should be treated with dignity,” asserted Isbell. To the government officials and employees, BWP volunteers remind them, “You need to see these people and take care of them… not sweep them under the rug.”
Isbell especially is asking for prayer and financial gifts to go toward the long-term rebuilding projects.
Currently, local churches can assist Disaster Relief as shown below:
According to Disaster Relief, there are hundreds of homes in Howard County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City that were damaged by the May 27 flood. Some received as much as seven feet of water and sewage.
They and other community response organizations are working together to clean out these houses as soon as possible. As of this morning, there are almost 200 homes on the job list waiting to be done. Your help is needed!
If you available to serve any days between now and June 23, please respond to email@example.com or (443) 285-2908. That will send your information straight to our field operations base so the Incident Command team can quickly connect with you.
DR Volunteers are needed for:
Recovery teams. Most of the work beginning next week will be pressure washing/shockwave. If you aren’t physically able to remove heavy items, DR can use you on these less physically demanding teams. They can still use strong, brawny people, too.
Kitchen: DR needs 1-2 people each day to prepare breakfast and dinner for about 10-15 people. They are using a church kitchen to feed disaster volunteers.
Logistics: DR needs 1 person each day who can be a general helper with shopping, running things out to teams in the field, showers, etc.
Assessors: DR may need 1-2 people each day to continue assessing damage to homes.
Unit leaders: Already trained and ready to serve
The Disaster Relief operations base is set up at Catonsville Baptist Church: 1004 Frederick Rd Catonsville, Md. Housing with showers, laundry and meals is available at the church.
Those interested in donating toward relief efforts can donate online at www.bcmd.org/give.