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FIRST-PERSON: Volunteers are making a difference

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–My heart is full as I reflect on my trip to Baton Rouge and Covington, La., to see what our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are doing and what they need. Everywhere my wife Cheryl and I went, the volunteers were there, in their bright yellow shirts and hats and even brighter smiles, giving themselves away.

And, in spite of the almost overwhelming grief and heartache all around them, those DR volunteers were lifting people’s spirits as they provided the most basic needs to the hurting. And they were genuinely happy as they worked.

As I feared, victims seemed in a daze -– their trauma is so great -– yet you never feel prepared for the depth of their despair, the tragedy of their circumstances. Many had lost everything or were separated from family members or felt they were without hope. And yet I could tell that the changed lives and caring hearts with which the disaster relief volunteers were serving them was making a difference. It’s a subtle thing, but you can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, observe it in their posture. The DR volunteers would share an encouraging word while serving a plate of hot, nutritious food, and a grief-stricken evacuee would brighten and stand a bit taller. You sensed they knew they were being treated with the love of the Lord.

A warm smile is so uplifting, a gentle pat is so welcome -– especially when the recipient feels broken and lost. These DR volunteers are doing vital work, the effective combination of ministry and evangelism. And, as I told my wife, they’re the happiest people I know. They’re telling people they minister to about the God they serve. Everyone who has ever contributed to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (and 100 percent of every dollar goes directly to disaster relief efforts) should take comfort in knowing the difference we’re making among an enormous population that needs a cup of water in His name.

All of the people we met were very special but some made an indelible impression like Pastor Steve Trammel of Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Steve and his staff are young, enthusiastic guys who seemed to be everywhere -– encouraging workers, helping evacuees –- and not the least bit concerned that their church was being turned upside down with a feeding unit spread all over the parking lot. A member of the Oklahoma DR team said to me: “If you want a model of how a church should respond in a situation like this, just take a look at these folks!”

I ran into Sam Porter, director of DR for Oklahoma Baptists. Sam towers well over six feet, has a big expansive smile and a heart to match. He was busy as usual, spreading his special brand of joy by passing out hugs -– and blessing people who needed them.

In Covington, we caught up with Freddie Arnold, one of our church planting missionaries in New Orleans. He was wearing a blue hat, which means he’s a DR supervisor. Freddie said his crew had requested “the very toughest jobs” and I could see they got their wish: They were wielding chainsaws on trees that had cut houses in half, plus they were operating feeding and shower units.

As we talked amidst the devastation and activity, I discovered Freddie’s own house was under 18 feet of water, yet here he was helping others no worse off than himself. “Look,” he said, “I have my faith, my wife, my health. God looks after me. Where else would I be than right here helping others?” In short, Freddie didn’t have much materially, but he was giving it all away!

A volunteer from Tennessee was clearing an area where trees were scattered like matchsticks. A family whose home had been destroyed by the trees asked him why he did this. He answered: “I’d do anything to bring people one step closer to Jesus Christ. What an honor it is to help people who can’t help themselves.”

A tender-hearted Mississippi College student told us he was reluctant to return to campus this week because “I have so many opportunities here to tell people about Jesus.”

And a woman operating a mobile kitchen and clothes closet said: “I just want these people to feel so good and loved.” Several men showed us with pride the shower units they had built. As you read this, people are using them to bathe for the first time in many days.

Thanks to all of you who pray faithfully and give generously, so that the work of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief can be accomplished. We are making a difference!
Robert E. (Bob) Reccord is president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Bob Reccord