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Disaster relief flexibility lauded by Red Cross official

DELAND, Fla. (BP)–Likening Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to Jesus’ 12 disciples, a Red Cross official in Deland, Fla., said many come alongside the Red Cross to provide emergency aid in times of need, but none are like Southern Baptists.

Southern Baptists “have bent over backwards,” Jack Ferrara told the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal in mid-September. “They’ve gone from flexibility to pure fluidness, and they are just so pliable to our needs.”

Ferrara, of Fort Lauderdale, who also is a Pentecostal youth minister, was in Deland to coordinate the redeployment of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief workers who closed down operations around the state when Hurricane Ivan began threatening the entire region.

Workers poured into the small sandy lot owned by the Seminole Baptist Association and the temporary site of Iglesia Bautista de Jobes to discover that the property was not suited to hosting nearly 50 workers, a mobile kitchen unit owned by the Florida Baptist Convention and related equipment — as well as several Red Cross vehicles used to deliver food.

Bobby Richardson, director of missions for the Seminole Baptist Association, worked all afternoon to scout sites with Florida Baptist Disaster Relief coordinators Tommy Thompson and Dick Thrower. Waiting for an assignment, disaster relief volunteers from various Florida Baptist churches milled about outside in the shadow of the church steeple while dark clouds began to slowly take over daylight.

“They had to have a safe parking lot to be able to set up their equipment,” Richardson told the Witness after announcing the new location at First Baptist Church in Orange City, about five miles away. “We had to find a church big enough to use that has a paved parking lot that would be accessible for them to get in and out.”

Sporadic flooding throughout the region was making it difficult for people to utilize their electricity even after it had been restored, Richardson said. Bordered by swampland and a national forest, some of the streets were still impassible and some houses still cut off from the street by clogged ditches and overflowing creeks.

Even newer upscale developments were unable to deal with the runoff from both Hurricane Frances and the steady downpours that have plagued the area since then.

“There are still several streets around town that retention ponds have overflowed and the water is not soaking in the ground, so it’s just staying there,” he explained.

Looking over a map with Thompson and Thrower, Ferrara told the disaster relief coordinators that a lot of people in the area still needed basic help with food.

“We are feeding migrant workers. We are feeding a lot of people that are retirees who lost all their food and everything else and are depending on their Social Security check which is coming at the end of the month,” Ferrara said. “I know we end up serving some of the greedy, but in this place here, we’re really serving the needy and it’s just a blessing what you guys do for us.”

Thompson asked Ferrara how many meals they should cook and when they should be ready.

“I can’t tell you, you tell me,” Ferrara said. “Whatever happens tomorrow will be a day of learning and understanding between us.”

Thrower told him they could have things up and running and be able to serve whatever would be needed by 2 p.m. on Sept. 16.

“We are flexible to the point of being able to be fluid,” Thrower said.
Later, Ferrara, who retired to Florida from Massachusetts, picked up on the same terminology in crediting Southern Baptists. “They have gone from flexibility to pure fluidness,” he agreed.

“Sometimes we are demanding … but we’ve never had a problem with the Baptist people,” Ferrara said, referring to the Red Cross. He said people are “amazed” when they discover Baptists do not have a financial incentive to help, but instead pour their own resources into the effort. When they return to their home churches, Ferrara tells those who ask, the volunteers “all get another zero in their paycheck” for their labor.

Ferrara choked up when he spoke of having recently spent time with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from Tennessee in Fort Myers, whom he called “the Tennessee boys.” Standing in 105-degree temperatures, he said the crews there were serving 6,000-7,000 meals at a time with “never a complaint, never a word of discouragement. Never anything but the peace of Jesus.

“I could almost cry. Nothing surprises me about Southern Baptists,” Ferrara said, having seen firsthand the ministry of Southern Baptist relief efforts over a 12-year period. As a result, he said he splits his own disaster relief donations between Southern Baptists and Red Cross.

“If I wasn’t in the Red Cross, I would be out here with a yellow hat on,” Ferrara said of the familiar caps worn by Southern Baptist workers.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan