Flooding seen as 'Zion-building experience'

Relief Society Pres. Mary Fournier stood at the pulpit to open her ward sacrament meeting with prayer last Sunday, and thanked the Lord for pouring out His blessings, and for providing the members with "Zion-building experiences."

The prayer was remarkable for the fact that Mary Fournier's house was still under several feet of flood water, and the prayer of gratitude she was offering was on behalf of the still-deluged Albany Ward, of the Columbus Georgia Stake.Prayers at meetings later in the day expressed the same sentiments. Sister Peggy Curles, who was serving as a temple missionary in the Atlanta Georgia Temple when she learned her house was under 5 feet of water, thanked the Lord for "this wonderful blessing and marvelous experience."

Summarizing the sense of shared trials and the support which Latter-day Saints are drawing from each other in southwest Georgia, Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy and president of the North America Southeast Area said, "Our people are at their best when there's trouble and turmoil and difficulty."

And there was plenty of that. Since tropical storm Alberto had broken the banks of the Flint River and its tributaries, 23 square miles of Albany had been inundated, 8,500 homes had been damaged and 23,800 people had been displaced. (See Church News, July 16.) Albany Ward Bishop Kirt Anderson said he had confirmed 17 member families were flooded in Dougherty and Lee counties, with perhaps a dozen more who had evacuated their homes and had not been able to regain access.

As flood waters receded from their record levels, and as the extent of the damage became evident, the coordinated relief efforts of the Church, other denominations and the civil authorities was already under way. Four hundred and fifty LDS volunteers from Georgia and neighboring states - Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and the Carolinas - arrived to begin the massive cleanup.

Coordinated through the Church's welfare services representatives and local priesthood leaders, crews were assigned to clean out smashed furniture, rip saturated sheetrock off walls and remove insulation. Huge piles of debris mounted outside homes.

Volunteers began spraying down walls with water pressure cleaners. Others took apart microwaves, dryers and washing machines, cleaned them piece by piece and began reassembling them. Other teams went door to door, disinfecting wells in Lee County.

Bishop Anderson told his congregation - many of them in work clothes - in sacrament meeting July 17: "The response of the Church has been incredible. If you ever want to see the Church in action, this is it. I've lost count of the truckloads of food and equipment that have arrived to help Lee County - wheelbarrows, electrical cable, pressure cleaners. It's truly uplifting to see the scale of the Church's welfare system."

Sid Bishop, LDS regional welfare agent, said: "People just want to help. The 450 people who have come this weekend will be doubled next weekend."

Stories abounded of volunteers traveling many hours, and working long hours to help relieve Latter-day Saints and others in the community who were in need.

A contingent of volunteers arrived from the Jonesboro Georgia Stake, who were recovering from recent flood damage of their own. A Boy Scout group from Snellville, Ga., voted to cancel their long-scheduled high adventure camp and spend the time helping to clean up the flood areas instead. One hundred volunteers from the Chattanooga Tennessee Stake responded to an appeal from Elder Morrison for able-bodied men to come and assist.

Meanwhile, missionaries from the Georgia Macon Mission working in the area have switched their proselyting work entirely to relief efforts until further notice.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed