Jim, an 84-year-old native of Aliceville, Ala., declared at the drug store last week that the wind that came through with Katrina was the strongest he had ever experienced.

Most people in our west Alabama county lost electric power for several days. Some houses were damaged by falling trees. Trees also fell across roads, hindering travel for some time.

As we learned about the devastation on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, we thanked God that–even with our inconveniences–we were blessed. The damage was manageable, and no one among us was killed.

The early response here included members of the associational disaster team taking their chain saws to homes where people needed a driveway cleared or a tree removed from their roof. They went from home to home with generators, hooking up to freezers and refrigerators so that food loss was kept to a minimum.

Terry, who operates a meat-processing plant and a restaurant near Gordo, Ala., cooked up food that he feared might spoil and fed scores of neighbors in his community for several days. Those who still had water shared it with those who did not.

More than 100 persons fleeing the coast found shelter among us. Many stayed with relatives. Others who had previously hunted in our forests came to stay in hunting lodges where they had lived during past deer and turkey seasons. Some moved into the Mom-and-Pop motels along U.S. Highway 82.

In many instances churches found out about these people and fed and clothed them.

Several of the displaced families, particularly those with roots here, have declared that they plan to remain. Unoccupied houses have been offered to them. Furnishings, which have been donated to the Baptist Center Thrift Store, are being provided for them.

Arrangements have been made for the displaced persons to meet with the Red Cross at the office of the Pickens Baptist Association. Checks will be provided to the families to help them meet immediate needs and get started again.

So, these grassroots Baptist folk, along with other Christians, are responding to the needs of neighbors and also to needs of “the strangers within our gates.”

Yet they are not through. They see the needs elsewhere, and they want to do more. Things are being gathered up and taken to shelters in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Columbus, Miss.

Still more to do: The association is connecting with the association of Baptist churches of Jackson County, Miss. That association has indicated what their needs seem to be–immediate, short-term and long-term.

A transport trailer will be parked at our associational building to receive items, which soon will be carried to Pascagoula. Later teams of craftsmen will travel there to help in the rebuilding process.

What is happening in our county has been repeated time and time again across America. Christian values of love, mercy and compassion have kicked in.

At our recent pastors’ prayer breakfast, we discussed comments in the media about the response of churches along the Gulf Coast to this disaster. They are providing shelter, feeding folk, offering health clinics, loving folk and meeting a variety of needs.

Their networks have functioned much more effectively than those of the government. Love seems to be a better motivator than anything agencies have devised.

We also were impressed by the testimonies in the media of those who went through the storm. They thanked God for sparing their lives. They declared that God must have something important for them to do in the days to come.

We felt they were doing something important right then. They were testifying to their faith in God, even in a time of great loss.

Like the popular spiritual song declares, they said, “God will make a way.”

He will. And we want to work with him in doing so.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church Leadership in Carrollton, Ala.

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