Rosewood Church at Epicenter of Flood Relief
On Sunday morning, October 4, Rosewood Baptist Church Pastor Bob Morgan and a few lay leaders met to check the church building following the flooding in the area overnight. Morning services were cancelled, and the group tended to minor leaks and reinforced other areas before leaving the church property. Then Morgan’s phone rang.
Across town by the Broad River, a homeless shelter was quickly filling with water. Desperate for another place to relocate close to 100 people already living in the winter shelter, the president of The United Way called the one person he knew who could mobilize volunteers quickly, Bill Dieckmann, director of missions at the Columbia Metro Baptist Association.
“(President) Mac Bennett and I have worked together since Hurricane Katrina and, when he needs help, he knows to call the Baptists,” Dieckmann said. With Rosewood Church’s gym in mind, Dieckmann called Morgan to inquire about using the space for the homeless people.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to minister and help, and to challenge our church at the same time,” Morgan said, acknowledging that neither he nor the church had ever done anything like the project set before them.
Over the next four hours, the church assembled a make-shift shelter complete with 75 borrowed cots and pipe-and-drape materials set up as privacy dividers. Church members pulled together food for a meal and items from the church’s clothing closet. By the time three city buses arrived with the flood victims at 2 p.m., the church was ready to welcome them and meet their basic needs. Dieckmann led the larger group in a prayer and said the heartbreaking stories of loss were immediately apparent.
“I saw a young lady about 12 years old walk in with no shoes on her feet; she was soaking wet and scared. One of the ladies gave her a hug and went to find dry clothes for her. Another woman who looked to be in her twenties arrived with only a long top on. She was shaking, nervous, and scared, and to see that church love on her was amazing,” he said.
Sadly, the flood victims would have to travel to several different locations that same evening as a result of the rising waters around town. After the church lost running water early Sunday evening, city buses carried the people to a local high school only to find its water was also out, and then finally to another area of town that still had running water.
“I’m so proud of Rosewood – they didn’t just put people on the buses and say goodbye, they loaded the bedding, got on the buses, went with them, and followed them all night,” Dieckmann said.
In the meantime, information spread through social media and word of mouth, and clothing, non-perishable food and other supplies began showing up at the Rosewood Church gym. The community response was so great that the gym shifted from a shelter to a functioning emergency relief site. Morgan estimated that over the next 10 days, the gym filled with donations and then was emptied of its contents about six times over again. Volunteers from Rosewood, other local churches, and the community worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day in the gym coordinating and managing the relief efforts. Morgan reported seeing constant examples of God’s direction and provision.
A white envelope that read ‘From Erin’ contained three dollar bills inside with the message, ‘to you.’ A child offered her allowance from a piggy bank to help ‘a flood family.’ An older woman delivered a bag of items to share – one can of corn, a roll of toilet paper, and a box of Jell-O. A man from New Jersey found Rosewood Church through Google, called Morgan, and told him to expect a FedEx delivery the next day containing a monetary gift for relief efforts.
“God’s plan was greater than ours in this. We managed to have what was needed or knew how to find it in the moment. God is at work in the hearts of people here, as we are trying to be the church God has for us to be on Rosewood Drive,” Morgan said.
According to Randy Creamer, disaster relief director with the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC), local churches can be one of the most valuable assets in the face of catastrophic events like flooding.
“The simple presence of a church does not guarantee their engagement in a time of crisis. It requires the sacrificial commitment of everyone – church staff, leaders, members – and is truly a team effort. I could never adequately express my gratitude for SCBC churches, like Rosewood Baptist, and associations that have stepped up all across our great state to be the body of Christ,” he said.
“Rosewood Baptist has been what I would consider an ‘epicenter church;’ they’re right there in the city and have been on the forefront of ministry from the first day,” said Sue Harmon, SCBC disaster relief operations manager.
At this time, Rosewood Church has transitioned to being a part of long-term relief care in the community. The contents of the gym have been moved to a permanent warehouse to be stored until needed. But now, as Dieckmann points out, the hard work really begins.
“The cameras and coverage will go away, and volunteers will go home, but there will still be people who have lost everything and are not back in their houses. The needs will continue for years, and that’s when the hard work really starts,” he said.
For his part, Morgan sees how God has worked throughout his church’s experience. “It’s been an affirmation to see that even in the middle of the flood, we are answering God’s call. I can’t control the flood, but I can say that this is what we will do in response to it,” he said.
“I’m just thankful Bob and Rosewood said ‘yes;’ I didn’t have a plan B,” Dieckmann said.