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Collegians wrapping up post-Sandy disaster relief work

NEW YORK CITY (BP) — No more sleeping in tents or working long hours during a cold New York City winter. For college students who’ve spent part of their Christmas break ministering to Hurricane Sandy survivors, it’s back to their routines of school, work, church and friends.

Many also will return with memories and experiences that’ll last a lifetime.

“There’s nothing that replaces the look on a homeowner’s face when you get to talk with them and you get to share the Gospel with them, when you get to look them in the eyes and pray with them and tell them there’s hope in the middle of this destruction,” said Jordan Niemeyer, a student at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind.

The last team of students serving in disaster relief roles in the Northeast head back to school during the week of Jan. 21. More than 500 Southern Baptist students from 22 states have participated in the DR initiative.

As the students head back to school, Southern Baptists will continue transitioning to a long-term strategy of ministry to Hurricane Sandy survivors. Fritz Wilson, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of disaster relief, said SBDR ministry in the region will continue for as long as a year.

Long-range SBDR plans in the Sandy-affected areas will focus on places where the Baptist Convention of New York and Send North America: New York City teams will be starting new churches. Wilson hopes the relationships and goodwill garnered by SBDR efforts will help church plants as they reach out to their communities.

“We can’t be everywhere, so we want to be in those communities where we’ll be starting new churches so we can enhance what they’re doing,” Wilson said.

In this long-term work, Wilson said Southern Baptists will continue to do some flood recovery — such as mud-out work — but they will do more pressure washing and spraying. Many homeowners have cleaned out their homes but they need help to get rid of the mold. Wilson said SBDR will also be helping in some rebuilding efforts.

“It won’t be on the scale of Operation NOAH [after Hurricane Katrina] but we’ll be recruiting churches and disaster relief teams to come in and help homeowners rebuild,” Wilson said.

SBDR continues to have non-collegiate teams in the Sandy-impacted region as well. To date, Southern Baptists have served more than 1.8 million meals to Hurricane Sandy survivors. A total of more than 34,000 volunteer days had been spent to help survivors through Jan. 11.

The pastor of a small, independent church that SBDR volunteers worked on last November now says the church plans to worship in the building by late January. Last fall Hurricane Sandy threatened the century-long witness of Port Monmouth Community Church, which sits less than a mile off the shore in Port Monmouth, N.J. Church members say a 13-foot storm surge left the church’s furnishings floating in 5 feet of water and destroyed two pulpits, among numerous other items.

SBDR volunteers from Texas Baptist Men spent three days last November removing the salvageable contents of the building. They then pulled out damaged sheetrock before power washing and sanitizing the interior walls and floors and replacing the electric meter and wiring lost due to the hurricane.

“I honestly believe if the Texas men had not shown up, our building would have been condemned by the city,” McGaw said.

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the Southern Baptist Convention’s 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Tobin Perry