Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia

by | May 2024

RECORD HIGH temperatures, a terrible drought, the effects of El Nino, and possibly a downed power line culminated together to spark a wildfire in Maui last August that has been labeled the world’s deadliest and most destructive in the previous 100 years. 

When Maui’s survivors returned, many were heartbroken; 2,170 acres had been consumed, 3,000 structures were gone, and over 100 people were dead. Lahaina suffered the most damage. Its 1859 courthouse, which once served as the seat of government for the Kingdom of Hawaii, plus many buildings that lined the main strip, along with the historic Banyan Tree Park, was leveled. Countless families were homeless, and business owners were penniless. 

A group of men from Virginia flew into this chaos, bringing with them the know-how to work amid a disaster situation, words of encouragement, and most importantly, a listening ear along with firm shoulders that could help the survivors carry these newfound burdens. Ron Steele, a Thomas Road Baptist Church member, was one of the men deployed by the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia (SBCV) Disaster Relief Team to serve two weeks on the island. This wasn’t Steele’s first deployment. In fact, he’s volunteered dozens of times across the southeast and with Louisiana and Oklahoma. 

Steele said, “With SBCV, we provide cleanup services for areas affected by tornados, hurricanes, and flooding. Typically, this would include mud-outs, which is essentially removing all water, mud, debris, and ruined belongings from a person’s home. In addition, it would include removing any drywall or insulation that has been affected by the water. 

“We would also treat for any black mold resulting from the moisture in the home over time. For disaster events that cause trees to topple, SBCV provides chainsaw crews to remove the debris from the homeowner’s property. To a lesser degree, SBCV provides repairs to the areas in the home that were affected. We also partner with other organizations, such as God’s Pit Crew out of Danville, Virginia, that rebuilds entire homes for people who have lost them due to a disaster. On at least two occasions, we provided personal property recovery for people who lost their homes due to a fire.” 

Steele said a good friend who served with the SBCV invited him to help a few years ago in Davis, North Carolina after it had weathered a devastating hurricane. That mission had such a positive impact on Steele that he now prepares his bags in advance and is ready to go whenever the call for volunteers goes out. 

“Officially, we were in Maui to help homeowners with personal property recovery, which is really nothing more than finding things of value to the owner amongst all the ash and debris. The most effective way of doing that was to sift through the ashes once the owner identified the most logical place the item[s] would be. The worst part of the week is having to wear Tyvek suits and face masks in the heat and humidity. We could work 20 minutes and then break for 20 minutes in order to prevent heat exhaustion. 

“However, that was really secondary to what we provided while there. The most important thing we provided was an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on for the people who lost their entire homes. Our church motto is ‘to love God and to love people,’ and that is really what we were doing in Maui. The people we interacted with couldn’t believe that a group of men would come all the way from Virginia to Maui and do the work we did without charging them a cent. Some wanted to know what compels us to volunteer for things such as this. This, of course, gives us an opportunity to share the love of God and what He has done for us. When I would tell someone that Jesus loves them, that seemed to have a calming effect [on] what they were dealing with.” 

Many survivors Steele worked with didn’t have home insurance or flood insurance, so they suddenly found themselves with nowhere to turn for help. He has since learned that the call to serve others in distress is one that, when answered, pays greater dividends than Wall Street — and that call still rings forth today. 

“If you are physically able, [and] have the time and a heart that cares for others, you’ll be surprised to learn that, in many cases, you are blessed more than those you are serving,” said Steele. GN 

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