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Disaster relief specialists head to Georgia

TBLISI, Georgia (BP)–Disaster relief specialists from three Baptist state conventions are deploying to the Black Sea country of Georgia to help families displaced by fighting between Georgian and Russian troops.

A seven-member team from Texas Baptist Men left Aug. 27 to set up a feeding operation for some of the estimated 100,000 displaced people in the country, according to Jim Brown, U.S. director of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization. The team also is expected to help distribute relief supplies and work on a building shell for use as a relief center.

Another seven-member team from the Kentucky Baptist Convention is expected to depart Sept. 4, and a 10-member team from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma will follow Sept. 7, Brown said. Each team is expected to be on the ground roughly 10 days. Before the Texas team leaves, a total of 24 Southern Baptist specialists will be in Georgia at the same time.

The Oklahoma team’s departure was delayed because that state’s feeding unit has been in Colorado, ministering to law enforcement officers providing security at the Democratic National Convention.

“We are hoping that if we hit it hard with these first three teams, they can help get relief operations set up so they can be turned over to local Baptist partners,” Brown said. “We understand also that Baptist volunteers from Ukraine and Armenia may come to help, and that local labor is available for rebuilding and repair projects.”

Brown said he and the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief coordinator, Terry Henderson, plan to have a conference call with disaster relief leaders in the Baptist state conventions early next week.

“By then, Texas will have been on the ground for three or four days, and we might have a better idea whether we are going to need any specialized ministry support teams and, if so, what kind of teams we will need,” Brown said. “If there is a need, we’ll see which states might be able to send teams to help.”

Complicating matters is the fact that the United States is entering its own hurricane season, Brown noted.

“Florida already has been hammered with severe flooding, and another storm is headed for the Gulf and no one really knows where it will strike,” Brown said. “It is projected to become at least a Category 3 storm. It’s possible that Southern Baptist disaster relief workers may be needed for response to storm events in the U.S., and that will affect our ability to field volunteers for Georgia.”

A Southern Baptist overseas assessment team already in Georgia is coordinating with other humanitarian groups and Georgia’s ministry of refugees, a team member reported.

“We just returned from meeting with these people,” the team member told Baptist Press. “An Italian group is going to be responsible for cooking for the larger part of the refugees and setting up a big kitchen at the tent cities. We offered to use our church building to store humanitarian aid.”

The team is working on getting the building ready to start feeding and working with refugees, the team member said, noting that the kind of supplies Southern Baptists are providing are in short supply.

“No one supplies hygiene items except for us and one other group, and they are still waiting on the boat from the U.S. to get USAID supplies — and even then it will only be enough for 2,000 families. We have already done this for 3,500 families by making local purchases with a few thousand dollars provided by Southern Baptists.

“Hygiene items have been the most desired items from the beginning. The second thing has been diapers and baby food,” the team member reported. “We did these things and they love us! People aren’t real fond of MREs!”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly