Mississippi Baptist responses to natural disasters in late 20th century
Article copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
Hardly a year passed without a story of a natural disaster or fire destroying a church in Mississippi in the late 20th century, yet each time Baptists responded with a helping hand. Mississippi Baptists began to organize and prepare themselves to respond to disasters. Soon after Hurricane Camille in 1969, Southern Baptists began discussing a more efficient way to respond to disasters. The Mississippi Baptist Convention put together a van with supplies in the 1970s, and assigned the work to the Brotherhood Department.
The Pearl River “Easter Flood” shut down the city of Jackson in April 1979. Some 15,000 residents had to be evacuated by Thursday, April 17, and downtown was cordoned off. Although no Mississippi Baptist churches were flooded, the Baptist Building in Jackson had to close for a time. At least 500 Baptist families had flooded homes, particularly members of Colonial Heights, Broadmoor, First Baptist, Northminster and Woodland Hills Baptist churches. Several hundred male student volunteers from Mississippi College were bussed from their dorms in Clinton to Flowood to work on the levee. The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief van was on the scene, serving hot meals to 1,500 people. For weeks, volunteers met every Saturday to do repairs, and the MBCB executive committee endorsed a statewide offering for churches to aid in flood relief.1
Hurricane Frederic damaged churches in the Pascagoula area in September 1979. In September 1985, Hurricane Elena did damage estimated at $3 million to churches and Baptist facilities all over the Gulf Coast. Griffin Street Baptist Church in Moss Point had its back wall blown out. The pastor, Athens McNeil, quipped, “We’re open to the public… literally.” Elena also damaged Gulfshore Baptist Assembly, the seamen’s center, and it caused $1.5 million in damage to William Carey College on the Coast. Baptist relief units were on the scene right away, working in conjunction with the Red Cross. A number of Baptist churches served as shelters; some 250 people stayed at First Baptist Church, Pascagoula.2
A deadly tornado hit churches in Pike and Lincoln counties in January 1975, and another twister damaged churches in Water Valley in April 1984. The most destructive tornado during this time was the one that hit Jones County on Saturday, February 28, 1987. Five Baptist churches had property damage, and members of five other Baptist churches had personal property damage. “I have never seen such damage since I left the battlefield in Europe as I saw in Jones County,” wrote Don McGregor, editor of The Baptist Record. Immediately, the Mississippi Baptist Brotherhood Department began calling churches across the State for volunteers. The day after the Jones tornado hit, 325 volunteers, representing 55 churches, arrived at the Jones County Baptist Association to serve. Hundreds more volunteers arrived during the week; eventually 1,000 people helped with clean-up and relief supplies.3
1 The Baptist Record, April 19, 1979, 1; April 26, 1979, 1; May 10, 1979, 1; May 17, 1979, 1; Author’s personal memory as a student at Mississippi College working on the levee for 17 hours in one day to stop floodwaters.
2 The Baptist Record, September 12, 1985, 3; September 20, 1979, 1; September 29, 1979, 1; September 19, 1985, 1, 3, 5.
3 The Baptist Record, January 16, 1975, 1, 2; March 5, 1987, 3; March 12, 1987, 3, 4; March 19, 1987, 2.
Dr. Rogers is currently writing a history of Mississippi Baptists.