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Chain saw school helps Baptists prepare for disaster relief ministry

ATLANTA (BP)–“I’ve been running a chain saw for 20 years and never knew I didn’t know what I was doing!” says Dana Smith of Lilburn, Ga.
Smith, along with 24 other men and women, participated in a chain saw school sponsored by Georgia Baptist Men’s Ministries in late August. The 16-hour school trains Baptist workers to be involved in cleanup and recovery work following natural disasters.
In order to receive chain saw certification, volunteers complete eight hours of classroom work and then fell a tree properly and safely.
Recognizing the number one cause of injuries after a disaster is from chain saw accidents, the school was instituted to ensure Georgia Baptist disaster relief volunteers are well prepared for the work they would be doing. Not every school participant passes the course the first time.
“It’s hard, but it should be,” says Curt Bonds, chain saw school instructor. “These guys are going to be working side by side with people. You can hurt someone else and you can hurt yourself.
“Besides,” he continues, “we’re going out there to be a witness for the Lord. What kind of witness would we be if we looked like Laurel and Hardy with a chain saw? You send people in who really know what they’re doing and it says a lot. People remember.”
Bonds and nine other instructors who alternate teaching responsibilities have all completed the intensive Game of Logging School sponsored by Husqvarna chain saw manufacturer. Their expertise is long admired by the students.
“He (Bonds) laid a tree within an inch of where he said he would. He’s amazing,” says Smith.
The chain saw school is part of a multifaceted disaster relief ministry operated by Baptists in Georgia and in other states.
Hurricane Andrew gave birth to Georgia Baptists’ ministry in 1991 as it headed toward the Florida coastline on a Sunday afternoon. At 2 p.m. that day, only one disaster relief trailer unit existed in Georgia. It was empty, except for two empty propane tanks and two fish cookers. Nine hours later, a crew of Baptist volunteers were on their way to Florida with that same trailer stuffed with pots, pans, cookers, generators and $5,000 worth of groceries. “We begged and borrowed every cooking utensil from every church we could find,” remembers Garry Adams, feeding unit director from Thomson.
“For 10 days straight, we worked from 4 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next day. It took me two weeks to wind down from that trip,” remembers Adams.
After responding to the Hurricane Andrew disaster, the Georgians returned committed to developing a disaster relief program. The training program they developed was a combination of Red Cross training and disaster relief training from other Baptist state conventions. Today, more than 1,800 people in Georgia are trained to respond to disasters. For any given disaster, there are 20 units available to respond; they include five feeding units, two communications units (ham radios), one child-care unit, one water purification unit, 10 cleanup and recovery units, and one supply unit.
Team members are ready to leave within four hours of being notified; they pay their own travel expenses; sleep on church floors (when they sleep); and stay for at least three days.
Employers are often sympathetic, but volunteers often lose pay to respond to these disasters.
Adams, a salesman, has told his boss that he is involved in disaster relief and will be going when needed. “He grumbles about it, but this is important to me. I’ll lose a job before I’ll give up this ministry.”
Bruce Poss, from Thomson, the feeding unit director, says, “When you’re on a team cooking meals for hundreds of people, everyone wants to know why. Where else do you get to have so many opportunities to share Christ and do something nice for people in the process?”

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  • Sherri Brown