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Churches focus on hope

On a sunny Thursday morning in McKees Rocks, Penn., the sound of hammers echoed through the neighborhood.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MCKEES ROCKS, Pa. | October 9, 2004

"We were talking at Bible study the other night about what does all this mean?"

—LaVern Stewart

On a sunny Thursday morning in McKees Rocks, Penn., the sound of hammers echoed through the neighborhood around First Baptist Church.

In the church's basement, several church members were hammering a door into place. Others were mopping up dirt left behind by almost a foot of water that flooded the basement three weeks ago when the remnants of Hurricane Ivan drenched the Pittsburgh region.

The heavy rains turned the hilly streets of McKees Rocks into rivers and flooded many houses in the Pittsburgh borough.

Thursday morning Flo Marx was cleaning mud off furniture. She paused to talk about being at the church when the water started rushing in. "A few of us ran downstairs to at least save the piano as best we could, we pushed it to a higher part of the basement," said Marx, assistant secretary of the church. "But that water came up very fast."

Marx, who served as First Baptist Church's custodian for 40 years, said she also learned another thing during the flood. "I quickly learned that I shouldn't keep my boots in the furnace room, I had to move those and put them on real quick," she laughed.

LaVern Stewart, another church member working in the basement, said it was sad to see all the damage done. Yet she added that they are able to see the positive. "We were talking at Bible study the other night about what does all this mean? What does all this damage and flooding mean? Well, it means we're working together more. And you know, things could have been much worse."

Marx promptly agreed. "Oh yes."

The American Baptist Disaster Relief Team is also now keeping its disaster relief trailer behind the church. The work teams will show up next week to assist in the basement recovery at First Baptist Church, as well as anywhere they are requested to help in the community. From there, the American Baptist Men will head to another damaged Baptist church in Apollo, Penn.

So far, despite hearing about and seeing some of the flood damage around the neighborhood, Marx and Stewart said they had not yet received any calls for help.

In the meantime, the church members have been getting the basement in shape. The walls are stripped down to the studs and covered in plastic. The floor tiles have all been ripped up. Outside, a dumpster sits full of the soggy drywall and other supplies that succumbed to the basement flooding. "It broke my heart to see it," said Marx looking around the room.

"But it's been a few weeks and we're doing pretty well, considering we ripped out the floors, doors, and everything."

Stewart said the quick loss of the basement items reminded her of the bigger picture. "Many people rely on money and possessions, but it can all be gone in a few minutes," she explained. "That's why we should focus on God. And you know, we don't get as tired with all this work because he strengthens us."

A member of First Baptist Church for 50 years, Stewart said the church always pulls together well in times of need. Both she and Marx said the pastor, his family, and the rest of the parishioners have been working very hard after the flood. Some help by bringing in food for the rebuild volunteers, and others help by lifting hammers.

The Lutheran church next door has also been helping as they can. "They are great neighbors, and they've always been good to us," said Marx.

The basement rebuild project will take some time, but much of the work is already finished. Marx said the day after the floods she was down in the basement with a hose, washing out thick layers of mud. And just like always, she has been working at the church every day since. "This is my home," she said matter-of-factly.

"Oh, we couldn't keep her away if we wanted," laughed Stewart.

The same holds true for the rest of the church members. "We've got some committed folks here, they're all committed to the Lord," she added.

Marx again agreed. "It's true, we are a tight family and we take care of each other."

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