SBTC DR crews serve tornado survivors in Arkansas
By Jane Rodgers/Southern Baptist Texan
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP) – Easter weekend is a time for family, friends, and worship. For Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief workers, it was a time to serve survivors of the tornados that devastated parts of Central Arkansas on March 31.
Relief teams worshiped on Resurrection Day and found opportunities to pray with survivors and share the gospel—even seeing some trust Christ as Savior.
A rapid response
SBDR groups, along with other first responders and disaster relief groups, headed to Arkansas within days of the tornados. SBTC DR volunteers set up their main headquarters at Immanuel Baptist Church, just off Interstate 430 on the west side of Little Rock, while other SBDR teams deployed to two other sites across the capital city.
The Immanuel site fell under the purview of SBTC DR incident management, led initially by Debra Britt of Flint who, with her team, coordinated the movements and work of 45 SBTC DR volunteers (as of Good Friday) and numerous Arkansas Baptist DR workers, too. This included feeding teams, shower teams, chainsaw and recovery crews, chaplains, and assessors.
Volunteers stayed at Immanuel Baptist’s large City Center, a former grocery store purchased by the church and converted into a massive classroom and community space that became a distribution center for food and supplies for tornado survivors. Residents drove up for diapers, water, toiletries, non-perishable food items, and clothing. The large complex offered plenty of room for representatives from FEMA and other emergency response agencies.
Britt arrived at Immanuel on Monday, April 3, and stayed until April 10, when SBTC DR’s Mike Jansen rotated in. Jansen supervised the hand-off of the response to Arkansas DR, which will establish a headquarters at a nearby location, said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director.
Volunteers manning an SBTC DR quick response mobile kitchen prepared meals for disaster relief workers and first responders, while a mass-feeding kitchen cranked out 2,000 meals per day distributed by another aid organization to survivors in the area.
Meeting spiritual needs
Recovery teams, chaplains, and assessors found numerous opportunities to pray with survivors during the one-week deployment, Britt said. Those workers often didn’t have to leave the parking lot or the City Center building to minister to those with spiritual and physical needs.
Chaplain David Mehl of Tyler said listening in such situations is key: “You have to listen to people’s stories.” On the rainy evening of April 5, when work had paused for the day, Mehl found himself with fellow SBTC DR chaplain Jim Carsten in the City Center after dinner when a church volunteer brought a woman to them to talk.
“She told us she was looking for help to remove trees from her yards,” Mehl said. Carsten helped the woman fill out the request for assistance. The men noticed she seemed tense.
“I explained that we were not only assessing her need for physical help, but assessing her emotional and spiritual needs,” Mehl said. “I told her that people with a faith story seem to do better in disasters.”
The woman explained that she had a religious background, so Carsten asked her if she would be confident of her eternal destination if she were to die.
“Yes,” she replied hesitantly, adding that she had “tried to live a good life.”
“We presented John 3:16 to her,” Mehl said. After further conversation, and at her request, the chaplains led the woman in a prayer of salvation.
“She said she felt so much better. She said she had never heard about Jesus that way, not heard a prayer like that,” Mehl said. The tension was gone. The woman wanted to see the chaplains again. They reconnected via text the following day and she said she was at work telling her friends what the chaplains had told her.
As of Good Friday, teams had seen three salvations. “We’ve seen hundreds of ministry contacts and passed out a lot of Bibles,” Britt said. “Because City Center is a distribution point, we have been able to establish chaplains at drive-thru lines. They talk and pray with people coming for food and miscellaneous things. It’s really beginning to hit home how bad things are. People are very receptive to hearing the Gospel.”
Disaster relief teams break for Easter, return to fields this week
By William Perkins/Mississippi Baptist Record
It’s back to work for volunteers with Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief (MBDR) after an “operational pause” for the observance of Easter.
“MBDR will return to Amory, Rolling Fork, and other affected areas to assess the needs moving forward as these communities continue the recovery process” from the severe weather of the past several weeks, said Hubert Yates, disaster relief director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in Jackson.
“It is anticipated that additional chainsaw/debris removal teams will be needed in addition to demolition services to assist homeowners in preparing to rebuild their homes,” he said.
Trained and credentialed MBDR volunteers began mobilizing across the state after deadly tornadoes struck on the evening of March 24. That severe weather episode was followed by another powerful storm on March 31 that resulted in significant damage to additional areas.
“With widespread damage, MBDR leadership reached out to the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Network for assistance to ensure that areas that were affected received assistance,” Yates said. “Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief responded to the call and coordinated with MBDR in establishing an operations site at First Church, Rolling Fork, that opened on March 26.
“This site provided incident management, spiritual and emotional care, assessment, chainsaw, tarping [placing tarpaulins over damaged roofs], and volunteer support/survivor feeding. Over the initial 12 days of operation, 276 volunteer days were recorded with 3,907 volunteer hours served from MBDR and Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.
“On March 31, Arkansas experienced their own severe weather outbreak and with the assistance of an Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief feeding team [in Rolling Fork], Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief returned home to serve their affected areas,” Yates said.
“A total of 4,023 meals were served to survivors and the deployed volunteers; 117 work requests for chainsaw, tarping, and debris removal were completed or closed prior to the [Easter] pause. The teams had the opportunity for 88 ministry contacts, five Gospel presentations and recorded one profession of faith,” Yates reported.
In Amory, MBDR completed 219 requests for assistance that included chainsaw, debris removal, tarping, and cleanup assistance. The Amory operation recorded 777 MBDR and church-associated volunteer days and 7,700 volunteer hours.
“There were 122 ministry contacts and two Gospel presentations,” Yates said. “The volunteer support feeding unit provided 1,854 meals for the deployed volunteers and church volunteers.”
Prior to the Easter pause, MBDR completed operations in the Carroll/Montgomery County areas that sustained damage during March 24 storm. “MBDR used three chainsaw teams providing 56 volunteer days and 336 volunteer hours to complete 13 requested for chainsaw, tarping, and debris removal without the need for establishing a base site, using a ‘drive-in/out’ procedure,” Yates said.