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FIRST-PERSON: Flood vols keep priorities

EDITOR’S NOTE: As of Monday (June 30), Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers in the Midwest had worked 4,500 volunteer days; prepared more than 240,000 meals, completed 200 mud-out and chainsaw jobs, provided almost 1,300 showers for flood victims and workers, completed 436 laundry loads, and recorded 2,007 chaplaincy contacts, 17 professions of faith and other decisions, 141 Gospel presentations and 763 ministry contacts. (Statistics provided by the national disaster relief operations center at NAMB in Alpharetta, Ga.)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (BP)–“Are you working in Cedar Rapids?” the girl at the McDonald’s drive-through window asked as we purchased our lunch. She had seen the large Southern Baptist disaster relief decal on our vehicle and recognized our yellow shirts.

“My sister’s house was flooded and they are cleaning it out today,” the girl continued.

“Well, do they have anyone to help with the clean-up?” asked Terry Henderson, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) disaster relief coordinator.

“They have already pulled the floor up,” she replied.

“What about spraying for mold? We will help them do that. Just tell them to go to Immanuel Baptist on ‘F’ avenue and they can sign up for help,” Terry said, encouraging her to tell her sister.

“Thank you, I’ll tell her,” she said. “Oh, I almost forgot to give you your order,” she said as she passed the bag of food through the window.

As I listened to that two-minute conversation from the passenger’s seat, I thought to myself, “Now that sums up the situation here in Iowa during this flooding. Thousands of homes have been damaged, families are pitching in to help, homeowners are busily doing everything they can to recover what is left, but they still need our help.”

Last week, I was able to see first-hand how Southern Baptists are helping in Iowa. The day started in an incident command center in Des Moines with a briefing at 8 a.m. Seasoned disaster relief veterans from six state conventions gathered for prayer and a devotion before they began assessing all incoming information to determine how best to utilize volunteer resources.

“Now here is Southern Baptist cooperation at its very best,” I thought to myself, as I looked around the room. People who had never met before today were serving together. The Cooperative Program is not just the name of the giving plan for missions; it is the way we do missions together.

We made the two-hour journey to Cedar Rapids in a diesel truck. Along the way, the driver told me a generous donor leases trucks to SBC disaster relief for $1 a month along with a half-dozen other trucks. God is raising up generous people over and over again to give sacrificially to our relief efforts.

As we drove through downtown Cedar Rapids, I saw the original Quaker Oats factory nestled along the river banks, as it has been since 1883. The buildings were intact, trees were not uprooted and power lines were still overhead. But floods are different from hurricanes. On the outside, everything looks fine until you look closely and see the brown watermarks two or three feet above the foundations. Then as we turned the corner, there were the familiar piles in the street — appliances, furniture and personal possessions. The terrible smell was so strong that families trying to clean up were wearing masks over their noses. Just a week or so ago what is now considered items of “trash” were neatly arranged belongings inside these homes. Everything was functioning and in place. What a difference a few days makes!

We saw the Red Cross emergency response vehicles driving slowly through the neighborhoods, delivering food prepared by Southern Baptist volunteers. At Immanuel Baptist Church, we met volunteers from Texas as they were cleaning up after preparing 3,700 lunches in just a few hours. Now they were getting ready to prepare supper. I asked how it was going.

“Oh this is great!” the group of ladies replied, “We are enjoying ourselves!” There was no mention of long hours, inconvenience or sleeping on cots in the church. I met a younger couple who told me that they had been in Cedar Rapids for two weeks already and were just glad to have an opportunity to serve the Lord. Not a complaint anywhere. I wanted to shout out loud.

We spent a cheerful few minutes chatting with a couple who was running the shower/laundry unit, washing clothes for volunteers and people in the community. They were not even sure when they would get to go home because they could not leave until their replacements arrived. Now that the water had subsided, SBC mud-out crews were on their way in.

We stopped at a Korean Southern Baptist church in Iowa City — All Nations Baptist Church pastored by Rev. Jong-Lee — that had housed 50 volunteers from Alabama for more than a week. The pastor shared how the volunteers had learned to pray every day with the Korean congregation, and the Koreans had learned about service from the volunteers. “Isn’t that just like my Heavenly Father,” I thought to myself. “As we go on mission and give ourselves, we become the greater beneficiaries.”

As the day drew to a close, I stopped to pray for the gracious Baptist Convention of Iowa leadership who had turned almost all of their offices into an incident command center. I prayed for the volunteers serving and traveling. I gave thanks for the privilege of being a part of God’s family called Southern Baptists. I prayed for some people I heard about who had come to Christ through the disaster relief efforts. I prayed for the dozens of mud-out teams needed over the next few months.

“Oh, I almost forgot to get supper,” I said to myself. Like the girl at the drive-through window, I was thinking about more important things. And then the words of Jesus came to me: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 4:34).

A day in the life of a disaster relief volunteer will help anyone get their priorities right.
Geoff Hammond is president of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

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