Age is No Barrier for 84-year-old DR Volunteer

Gwen Arthur, who attends Greenridge Baptist Church, in Clarksburg, was saddened watching news broadcasts showing photos and videos of the devastation from recent flooding in Kentucky. When the octogenarian, a trained DR yellow hat volunteer, saw an opportunity to deploy to the area, she knew she wanted to go.

One of the homes severely damaged by flooding in Kentucky. The river was above the level of the porch floor. A multi-state team worked to remediate the damage, lovingly bagged beloved belongings, and ministered to families. (photo submitted)

Arthur, the wife of the late George Arthur who served as the Montgomery Baptist Association director of missions from 1981-97, was one of about a dozen Greenridge members who traveled to Grace Seaford Church in Delaware earlier this year for BCM/D DR training. In the spring, she served with others providing food for volunteers who came to Maryland to assist churches during the Send Relief Baltimore Serve Tour.

Traveling to Kentucky to help with flood relief was a big second step, but Arthur was excited at the possibility.

“I called Ellen Udovich (BCM/D’s Community Engagement/Disaster Relief consultant) to see if an 84-year-old woman could be helpful,” said Arthur. Udovich’s answer was a resounding ‘yes!’ Not only could she be hands-on helpful, but her presence could be very encouraging to homeowners.

The Maryland/Delaware DR team (Arthur and Richard Perrine, members of North Harford Baptist Church) was partnering with a Pennsylvania/New Jersey DR team. Arthur drove to Harrisburg Pennsylvania, to meet her fellow volunteers, jumped in a van, and arrived in Kentucky on Saturday, August 14. The following day they worshipped with Marrowbone Missionary Baptist Church in Elkhorn City, Ky, had lunch together, and then headed to their assignment. The combined team worked under the supervision of the Alabama Baptist Convention Disaster Relief team. Altogether, Arthur said there were about 90 volunteers.

Gwen Arthur sorts through a victim’s belongings to save what was salvageable and to dispose of ruined items. (photo courtesy of Richard Peronne)

“We went to a home with two feet of water above the floor. The flooring had to be torn out and a lot of things removed,” she said. Arthur’s heart went out to the family. Many items were destroyed, and the house smelled bad from standing water, mold, and mildew. Household and personal items were stacked on the furniture and tables. The homeowner, an 83-year-old woman, was not home, but the woman’s daughter and granddaughter were onsite and helped the team determine what needed to be thrown out and what should be kept. Members had to be careful not to fall on the buckled floor. Arthur’s first job was to bag things up and get them out of the house. As she worked, she and another volunteer discovered heirloom quilts, which they washed, dried, and safely stored them. The team had to clear the area and get the furniture out to pull up the ruined flooring.

After her initial job, Arthur helped pull staples out of the floor joists to make preparations for a new floor. She bagged insulation and helped clean up trash.

Richard Peronne and Gwen Arthur dispose of trash from the home. (photo courtesy of Richard Peronne)

She laughed as she said she was definitely exhausted Saturday night and wasn’t sure she could go back the next day, but she was rejuvenated after a good night’s sleep and continued on, even encouraging others.

The work was exhilarating for Arthur but the most exciting part was seeing spiritual seeds being sewn and several people committing their lives to Jesus.

Team members encouraged and prayed with the daughter and granddaughter as they worked. The grandaughter’s estranged husband came to the home later in the week to help.

Arthur said, “On the last day, the husband just broke down and cried in appreciation for what we had done. We told him it was because of God’s love that we wanted to do the work, and we told him because of God’s love, we love you too.” Arthur said one of the volunteers had some spiritual conversations with the young man and prayed for his family’s restoration.

There were three chaplains on the team, from Penn/Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine. Arthur said while one part of the team was working on the house, the chaplains were driving around the area and ministering to people as the Holy Spirit opened the doors. They saw one young man walking down the road by the church who seemed despondent. The chaplains talked with the man, gave him food, got to know him, asked about his life, and shared a bit about Jesus with him. Arthur broke down in tears as she told how the next day, that man returned to the church seeking the chaplain he spoke with, and he brought three other people. The chaplain chatted with the little group,

Gwen Arthur said spending just a week with this team brought them together like a family. They looked out for one another, giving water to team members, encouraging breaks, and being mindful of their various abilities and limitations. (photo courtesy of Richard Peronne)

provided more food, and prayed with them. All four accepted Christ.

As the team prepared to leave, they prayed with the family outside and a neighbor came and joined them.

“Our prayer is that the church and association will be able to follow up with these people and disciple them,” Arthur said.

Arthur shared how the workers bonded on the trip. In fact, she said Richard Peronne and his wife, Linda, long-time DR volunteers, were driving in the area near where Arthur lived and stopped in to see her before the trip to share a bit about what it would entail and to encourage her. “Linda (who was unable to participate on this trip) told Richard to take care of me,” Arthur chuckled. But then, she said, everyone took care of each other. “If anyone noticed someone else was thirsty, they would take them water.” No one, she said, thought anyone was ‘shirking’ if they took multiple breaks, and everyone respected the various skill levels.

“We were like family and we were only together a few days,” she said.

Udovich said she was so impressed with Arthur. “It was her first flood recovery experience — at 84! The (Penn/Jersey) state DR director (Kenton Hunt) who was also on the trip, said she blew them away with her energy, sweet nature, and ‘get-it-done’ attitude.

Sharon Mager is BCM/D senior staff writer/editor

You will be hearing some exciting ways your church can be involved in being proactive in ministering in your community to respond to disasters and community needs through BCM/D Ready! More information will be available soon.