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Baptist volunteers needed for nationwide DR response

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — More than 2,000 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are engaged in an ongoing response across North America in a dozen states. In addition, volunteers remain involved in relief work in Japan and Haiti. Because of the unprecedented number of disasters this year, SBDR leaders are signaling a need for more trained volunteers and offering ongoing training opportunities.

Training events continue to help bolster the roster of trained DR volunteers, said Mike Morgan, North American Mission Board disaster operations center manager. Twenty state conventions currently are responding to disasters.

NAMB President Kevin Ezell asked Southern Baptists to prayerfully consider filling in the gap.

“We have faced unprecedented heat and wildfires, massive outbreaks of tornadoes, and flooding not seen in more than 100 years in the Northeast,” Ezell said. “There are active DR responses ongoing across the nation and there is still the need to go the next mile.

“I know many DR volunteers have already used up their available vacation time to minister. Southern Baptists have always given of themselves sacrificially and I know they will again. We have helped thousands of people this year and seen hundreds come to faith in Christ. Now we need the next group of trained volunteers to step up and say, ‘I will go.'”

In Texas an unusual menace is forcing the activation of hundreds of DR volunteers across the state — wildfires on a scale not seen in living memory.

“As the fire raced through the area, people came to the church. They had nowhere to go, escaping with only what was on their backs,” said Raymond Edge, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bastrop.

“One family had just settled down for a nap,” Edge recounted. “Their son came running in and said they needed to go now. The mother jumped up, they ran to the car with a wall of fire heading toward them. They drove away as fire reached their home. She did not even have time to put on shoes. They lost everything.”

Similar stories were repeated 35 times within the congregation as family after family lost everything to the wildfire. Edge, who serves as a member of NAMB’s board of trustees, has pastored the church for 15 years.

“There have been 1,554 homes destroyed in Bastrop County. The home of my chairman of deacons was destroyed,” Edge said. “Sunday School leaders, children’s leaders, so many strong leaders in our church have had their entire homes destroyed. We ask God’s people to pray for us.

“One of my members reminded me of something and I have been telling everyone, ‘God reminds us that He will bring beauty out of the ashes.’ We believe He will do that here,” Edge said.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor said the Bastrop County fire has destroyed the most homes ever in a single wildfire in Texas, eclipsing the previous record in April near Possum Kingdom Lake.

Uniquely prepared to respond, First Baptist in Bastrop has a facility tailor-made for supporting a disaster response. And it sits on a major highway.

“God has blessed us with 50 acres with a 25,000-square-foot building. It was a large truck repair shop,” Edge said. “This will be the staging area for all of the DR response here. Everyone who comes through will see Southern Baptist Disaster Relief here for as long as it takes to help people. As many as 200 volunteers are expected for this response.

“This effort could never have been undertaken without the volunteers of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” Edge said.

Morgan echoed Edge’s sentiment and praised the cooperation of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Texas Baptist Men. “They are both working in a unified incident command for the Bastrop response,” Morgan said.

“The first unit from TBM arrived in the middle of the week and began feeding operations. Then an Austin Baptist Association unit arrived. Next a DR feeding kitchen from the SBTC began feeding local firefighters. That unit is now at our church,” Edge said. “We put the church buildings at their disposal. They were asked by the American Red Cross to provide food throughout the response.”

Other Texas units also have responded, including the Tarrant Baptist Association that established a feeding unit just outside of Bastrop to aid 1,000 firefighters and first-responders.

Morgan said responses continue across the country, and more will be needed as additional flooding hits Pennsylvania. Bruce Poss, NAMB’s DR coordinator, is at FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center assisting with the response.

“Penn-South Jersey already has a feeding unit serving in Hazelton,” Morgan said. “That unit was requested by the American Red Cross last Friday and was set up Saturday. A Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia feeding unit arrived on Sunday and they now have a combined capacity of 20,000 meals a day.

“Iowa has activated mud-out units in the Sioux City area and one Illinois team has arrived for service there. The ground is stable enough to allow cleanup and mud-out to begin,” Morgan said.

In Minot, N.D., mud-out operations will conclude for the winter at the end of September, Morgan said. Volunteers will be needed in the spring when work resumes.

“Our volunteers are great and have responded well. We have trainings ongoing to help put more volunteers in the field,” said Morgan, a volunteer and member of First Baptist Church in Dade City, Fla. Morgan said anyone interested in becoming a trained SBDR volunteer can contact their respective state conventions.

“Randy Creamer [a NAMB DR coordinator] is in New York conducting trainings. He also met with members of the United States Military Academy at West Point Baptist Student Union,” Morgan said.

West Point BSU director Dwain Gregory participated in the New York training, along with New York DR director Mike Flannery, who serves as the Frontier Baptist Association director of missions in Buffalo.

“When Terry Robertson, our executive director, met with Randy, he reminded him that West Point cadets volunteered in the Hurricane Katrina response,” Gregory said. “Robertson encouraged him to contact us. Randy and Mike shared about DR efforts. There were 35 cadets there. They responded with enthusiasm.

“Cadets like to help hurting people. It can be difficult for them to get away from campus in the fall, but Randy and Mike identified an area that needs help 25 miles from campus,” Gregory said. “We hope to have a group there soon. The cadets are excited and ready to help.”

Donations to the disaster response efforts by various state Baptist conventions can be made by contacting their respective offices. To donate to NAMB’s disaster relief fund, go to www.namb.net and click the “donate now” button; call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262); or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Donations can also be sent via texting “NAMBDR” to the number “40579.” A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller’s mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.
Joe Conway is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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