DeLAND — For a while Monday afternoon, the tornado-ravaged 500 block of Beresford Road seemed like interfaith central.

A team of five members of the Islamic Society of Central Florida’s disaster relief had just pulled in from Orlando and unloaded their chain saws and other equipment.

They started helping the Rev. Bruce Hedgepeth of First Presbyterian Church of DeLand, who was on the roof of a damaged home with half a dozen members of his congregation working nearby, the latest stop in the church’s marathon volunteer efforts since the storm hit Friday.

Within a few minutes, a group of women from Hannah’s Circle, a women’s and children’s mission support group at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park, all dressed in bright yellow T-shirts, drove up with news of a woman in the area who was in dire shape and hadn’t yet been visited by any volunteers. As the Muslims started their chain saws to clear trees from the damaged house, Hedgepeth came down from the roof and headed off to visit the woman in distress.

The outpouring of help was just one example of how diverse congregations and denominations have joined in body and spirit to help victims of Central Florida’s devastating tornadoes.

First Baptist Church of DeLand has set up a command center for Southern Baptist volunteers from across the country to help with cleanup as well as prepare food for Salvation Army and Red Cross workers.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orlando delivered hundreds of meals to the hard-hit Paisley/Lake Mack area. On Monday, the diocese was gathering about 1,000 blankets, health/hygiene kits, baby supplies and cleanup materials from a disaster distributor, most for use in Lake County. . .

In the wake of natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and fires, Baptists with chain saws are a common sight in Sunbelt areas like Central Florida, as are Presbyterians and Methodists. But since Hurricane Katrina, the Islamic Society of Central Florida has joined this tradition.

“We want to erase the stereotype of Muslims,” said Bassem Chaaban, the crew’s leader.

“As people of faith, we believe that faith is more about serving your neighbors,” said Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society. “The best expression of true faith is serving God through serving your neighbors as in the commandment, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.'”


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