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Baptists gear up for post-Ike challenge

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–Southern Baptist disaster relief preparation for Hurricane Ike “is going chaotic but good,” said Jim Richardson, disaster relief director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“Our volunteers are notorious for their ability to shift on the go and make things work,” Richardson said in advance of Hurricane Ike -– pegged to be at least a Category 3 storm with 110 mph winds, a storm surge of up to 20 feet and 10 inches of rain when it hits between Freeport and Galveston, Texas, either late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

Larger than 2005’s Hurricane Katrina before landfall, Ike could be Texas’ worst hurricane in 50 years.

About 90 volunteers with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention already are at work in the state, staffing four SBTC kitchen units feeding evacuees in San Antonio, Laredo and in the Bryan/College Station areas. A recovery unit is on standby.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptists’ disaster relief “cavalry” is on the way.

“Our prayers are with the Texas Gulf Coast residents as they prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ike,” said Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board. “Hundreds of disaster relief teams and equipment are waiting nearby or are on their way to the projected areas of impact.”

Mickey Caison, director of NAMB’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., heads up a team coordinating the mobilization of disaster response units en route to Texas from Southern Baptist state conventions across the country.

“Right now, we’ve got units from California, Florida, Virginia and Michigan on the road heading to Texas,” Caison said. Other units from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia also are en route to staging sites in San Antonio and Tyler, Texas, or at Camp Living Waters, a Baptist camp in Loranger, La.

“Our goal is for all units to be in place by Monday afternoon, and up and feeding by Tuesday,” Caison said. Traffic, tropical storm winds and rain will determine when and where the units arrive at their assigned locations, he said. Some Louisiana units are “hunkering down” where they have been serving in the wake of Hurricane Gustav and will move out to Texas after Ike’s landfall.

Because many Texas volunteers served in Louisiana following Hurricane Gustav over the last 10 days, Caison is seeking help from other states to relieve the fatigued Texas workers.

“We’re looking for trained disaster relief volunteers from the Northwest United States, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota/Wisconsin and New England,” Caison said. Volunteers from these areas will be flown into Texas after Ike’s landfall to work in feeding and chainsaw units.

“Since I’ve been in Texas only two years, I don’t know how Ike will rank with other disasters like the 1983 hurricane,” said Richardson, who previously directed Georgia Baptists’ disaster relief ministries for 10 years. “One thing for sure, this is going to be a major blow from Galveston up to Tyler and Texarkana, and up the whole east side of Texas, which will be under hurricane and tropical force winds.”

Hurricane Alicia, the 1983 Category 3 storm that struck Texas, killed 23, injured 3,100 and inflicted $2 billion in damages.

Richardson said sites for the Texas incident command centers won’t be determined until after Ike’s landfall, but he said the Houston or Huntsville areas will be likely options.

“Just ask Southern Baptists to pray for people in the path of this big, powerful storm,” Richardson said. “Pray for the first responders. And pray for good reception by the public of our disaster relief teams who will go out armed with chainsaws and feeding units to share the hope of Jesus Christ, and that the Gospel will be spread through this disaster.”

Hammond added that “during times of crisis, Southern Baptists immediately respond with generous support and partner to provide relief and hope to those in urgent need. In addition to meeting physical needs, volunteers also are meeting the eternal needs of residents by sharing the spiritual hope which is found through Jesus Christ.

“Please pray for the disaster relief coordinators and volunteers, many of whom have been working tirelessly for weeks, as they prepare to face the effects of yet another storm,” Hammond said. “Our deepest thanks for holding us up with your support, prayers and partnership.”
Mickey Noah is a staff writer with the North American Mission Board. To donate to Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts, phone toll-free 1-886-407-6262 or visit www.namb.net.

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  • Mickey Noah