RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–A 2.4-million-pound “gift of love” is on its way to hungry Iraqi families, thanks to the generosity of Southern Baptists.
Since mid-April, churches from across the county have been filling 70-pound boxes with rice, flour, beans and other Middle East staples. One box will feed a family of five for approximately one month.
Now these packages have arrived at ports in Houston, Texas, and Norfolk, Va., where they have been loaded into containers to be shipped overseas.
“I can’t thank Southern Baptists enough — individuals, Sunday School classes, churches, state conventions and numerous disaster relief teams,” said Jim Brown, director of world hunger and relief ministries at the International Mission Board. “Everyone pitched in to physically help needy Iraqis.
“We could not have done it without the involvement of our Southern Baptist family. I will be forever grateful for the love and concern expressed through their involvement.”
Donors spent approximately $2 million filling these boxes, creating a mass of food exceeding the weight of more than 590 full-size trucks.
North Carolina Baptists, who produced 6,500 of the estimated 35,000 boxes that will go to Iraq, gave more than any other state, reported Jean McDaniel Renfrow, the IMB transportation freight specialist who is largely responsible for collecting and shipping the boxes.
Missouri Baptists, themselves recovering from a series of tornados that struck in early May, amassed 2,000 food boxes and donated $26,000.
“The people of Missouri are still giving even though they have personally been affected by disaster,” said Gary Morrow, volunteer director of disaster relief operations for the Missouri Baptist Convention.
In addition, one Christian truck driver from southeastern Missouri saw the need to transport these goods and volunteered his time and his 18-wheeler to haul a load halfway across the country to a collection center in Richmond, Va.
Stories like these illustrate how Southern Baptists sacrificially and creatively went the extra mile for people they likely will never see, Brown said.
The containers soon will be ready to leave the ports in Houston and Norfolk for the 45-day journey at sea. Some containers will arrive in Jordan, but it is anticipated that most will come through the southern Iraqi port at Um Qsar.
The food packages originally were supposed to depart on June 1, but the Um Qsar site is not scheduled to open officially until June 15, according to Brown.
“The situation is still fluid, and the specific distribution plan has not been totally finalized,” he said, but the food likely will be in the hands of needy Iraqi families as soon as early August.
God’s provision in providing the boxes will be as providential as His timing over their distribution, Brown added.
“Relief efforts generally push for great assistance in large cities immediately following a disaster, but humanitarian aid tends typically to die out after a few months,” he said. “That’s exactly when regional workers will team with local officials to supply isolated, needy areas in southern Iraq with assistance.”
These boxes, stamped with John 1:17 and a greeting from Southern Baptists in Arabic, “will be specifically delivered to hungry families rather than being mass-distributed at a refugee camp,” he said. “This project will help aid workers build and sustain credible relationships with new Iraqi friends, relationships I believe God will honor and bless in His way and His time.”
Not only will the project meet needs overseas, but the hands-on effort also has served to increase awareness of missions in ways that simple appeals for money often do not.
“I am floored at what the box-to-Iraq project has done for our people,” said Nan Sugg, a former missionary to Taiwan now serving with First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss. “We’ve had people who have never before had anything to do with missions bring a bag of flour or a sack of beans to add to their Sunday School class’ box.”
Newspapers across the country ran ads letting readers know about the food collection. Grocery stores donated large volumes of goods, and a Richmond truck-loading company opened its docks to speed the collection process.
The total estimated freight cost of the project is $325,000, according to IMB personnel. Those costs will be paid out of the IMB’s World Hunger Fund, monies that are donated by Southern Baptist churches.
Although deadlines for assembling food boxes have passed, individuals and churches still can contribute by sending a donation. Checks should be designated to the “World Hunger Fund” and should be made payable to the International Mission Board. All donations will be used 100 percent for Iraq relief.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PACKING UP, UNLOADING and FREE RIDE.
— For more stories on how individual churches fueled the Iraqi relief effort, go to www.imb.org/urgent.
— Give to the relief effort: http://www.resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/961.htm.
— Video clips on Iraq relief: http://www.imb.org/urgent/media2.asp#video.