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Disaster relief: Records tallied in ’04 by Baptist volunteers

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responses in 2004 reached an all-time high, including record numbers for meals prepared, buildings repaired and cleanup and recovery projects.

More than 15,000 trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers gave their time, talents and energies in response to 193 natural disasters which included hurricanes, an earthquake, floods, tornadoes and ice storms.

Southern Baptists prepared more than 3.5 million meals, repaired more than 2,600 buildings and completed nearly 11,000 cleanup and recovery projects -– all record responses.

“The service accomplishments of 2004 are a shining example of how God allows us to be part of His great work when Christians come together to work in cooperation with each other,” said Robert E. (Bob) Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board. “I’m especially grateful to our state convention partners who put so much into disaster relief training and equipment and getting the people on site. I know of no better way Southern Baptists can build bridges to the world than to be there with desperately needed help during the darkest hours of disaster and I’m grateful to Southern Baptists for making it possible.”

2004 began with mobilizing volunteers for a seven-week response following an earthquake in Iran in late December 2003. January ice storms in South Carolina, followed by May floods in Ohio, June tornadoes in Kentucky and flooding in West Virginia served as a prelude to a barrage of fall hurricanes that pummeled the Southeast.

Hurricane Charley was the first of four hurricanes to blast Florida within a six-week period, making landfall in the southwestern part of the state on Aug. 13. Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne followed, crisscrossing the Sunshine State and then leaving a swath of destruction throughout the Gulf Coast region and along the Atlantic Seaboard as far north as West Virginia.

By late October, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers had prepared more than 2.4 million meals in two and a half months. Southern Baptists prepare most of the meals distributed by the American Red Cross and are the third-largest disaster relief agency in the country behind the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

“What has become increasingly clear through the years is that God is allowing Southern Baptists to grow their presence during disasters, particularly in leadership relationships with the American Red Cross,” said Jim Burton, director of NAMB’s volunteer mobilization team.

“More and more, we see partners like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army turning to Southern Baptists for assistance,” Burton continued. “For example, during the recent hurricane season in the Southeast, our volunteers drove American Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles and operated mobile kitchens for both the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The lesson from the hurricanes was a reminder that our greatest asset is our people.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief officials conservatively estimate the value of the labor provided by volunteers in a two-month period following the four hurricanes at $6.9 million. And nearly $700,000 was given through NAMB for disaster relief ministries by donors from August through December.

“The hurricane response was the largest in history,” said Terry Henderson, NAMB’s national director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“It was especially challenging with the evacuations we had to do, pulling the units out and then getting them back in and set up,” Henderson continued. “And often they were being set up in different communities than they came out of. Before we finished adequately one response, we were into another response and that was extremely taxing on our volunteers and equipment. Yet, in spite of the challenges, our state Baptist convention partners across the country responded admirably.”

During the unprecedented hurricane relief effort, NAMB’s Disaster Relief Operations Center in Alpharetta, Ga., was in operation for 78 consecutive days which included the activation of more than 500 disaster relief units by nearly 40 Baptist state conventions.

Mickey Caison, manager of NAMB’s adult volunteer mobilization unit, said equally as significant as the record response is the fact that not a single volunteer sustained serious or life-threatening injuries.

“They’re working 16 to 18 hours a day in extreme weather conditions, sleeping on a floor,” Caison said in describing the life of disaster relief volunteers who usually serve five to seven days at a time.

“They’re fatigued,” Caison continued. “They are in high-stress situations, especially the guys running chainsaws. You’re working with fires and hot stoves, boiling water and food, and using convection ovens at high temperatures.

“God continues to provide protection and care for our volunteers. There are accidents, but we praise the Lord that, typically, there haven’t been very serious accidents.”

Caison also attributed the low incidence of accidents to the leadership of unit directors who focus on safety. “More and more training is invested that way,” he said.

So far this year, more than 120 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from 10 states have been helping prepare meals and serving in medical clinics in Indonesia following the Tsunami that hit the region in late December 2004.

Since 1995, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief fleet has grown from 95 units and 3,000 trained volunteers to nearly 600 units and 31,000 trained volunteers.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units include mobile kitchen and shower units, chainsaw and recovery crews, mud-out and rebuild teams, water purification units, communication teams, as well as childcare and chaplaincy services. Units generally are owned and operated by state conventions, local associations and churches and are coordinated and mobilized nationally and internationally by NAMB.

“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief continues to be one of our best case studies in cooperative missions,” Burton said. “With nearly 31,000 volunteers from 42 state conventions and coordination from NAMB on multi-state, interstate, and international responses, the agreement to work together to meet human and spiritual needs has made us strong and able to sustain long-term operations.”

For more information about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministries and upcoming training opportunities, contact your local state Baptist convention or visit www.namb.net/dr.

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  • Lee Weeks