ALPHARETTA, Gal. (BP) – I continue to believe that one of the greatest examples of cooperative missions is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and countless selfless SBDR volunteers who serve faithfully. I am grateful for the countless leaders and volunteers who often travel long roads to sleep on cots and sleeping bags to work long, hot, strenuous days. They serve people they have never met before, volunteering sacrificially again and again.
I have witnessed first-hand volunteers who have often put their own needs and lives on hold to go and help someone else devastated by a disaster. They clean up flooded homes, cut trees and place tarps on roofs after a storm. They may travel around the world to repair wells in villages that need clean water or serve hot meals to hungry people displaced from their homes.
The sacrificial ministry of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers has been a beacon of light amid darkness and despair. Repeatedly, I have heard those to whom they minister ask them, “Why would you do this?” and hear them respond, “Because Jesus loves and cares about you.”
I still remember a man, who would have never let me inside his home on a church visitation night, agree to allow an SBDR team to work on his flooded home, though he quickly shared that he did not want to hear any of this “[blankety-blank] Jesus stuff.” He instead told us that he would like for us to tell him where Jesus was when his whole life was washed away. I watched as the team patiently worked on his home for almost three days, even though the man’s language and replies to any mention of Jesus were often rather salty and less than pleasant. They tore out drywall, helped him go through what remained of his life and cleaned and sanitized what the floodwaters had damaged.
I am still shocked that he agreed on our last day to let us pray for him, but I’m even more shocked that he asked to share a word with our group before we prayed. He said, “A few days ago, I wondered where Jesus was in all this, but I just want you to know that I saw Him this week in you and you and you and you and you.”
Later that day, I watched two Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers lead this man to Christ on the same front porch where we’d found him weeping just a few days earlier.
I remember further, traveling with SBDR volunteers to Madagascar to assess famine conditions and to seek to assist responders. The volunteer team drove long miles to look at remote villages, often on roads that looked more trail than highway. They slept under mosquito nets in austere, rugged conditions with no electricity, running water or air conditioning and bathed out of a bucket.
They served long, hard days without a complaint as they witnessed heartbreaking needs and repeatedly heard heart-wrenching stories. And yet day after day, they ministered with compassion and grace to these suffering and starving. One of the ladies shared on the journey, “I always wondered where the uttermost place was that Jesus commanded us to go, but never dreamed he would call me to go a mile further.”
At one of the villages, I watched God use this team to open opportunities for a young national partner to share the Gospel. I witnessed God transform a man enslaved by darkness and idols into a new creation in Christ. Our SBDR team then joined him as he built a fire and burned his idols as a testimony to his neighbors.
These are just two examples of lives changed by the selfless service of SBDR volunteers that could be repeated a thousand-fold as volunteers minister each year to tens of thousands of people. In times of crises, SBDR volunteers minister to the least of these and live out the command of 1 John to share the love of Christ in word and deed.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is often not only first in response but the last to leave. They were there when Hurricane Ida ravaged Louisiana, when unprecedented tornados struck from Mayfield to Bowling Green, Ky., when the Ukraine crisis displaced almost a third of that nation’s population and last week when an elementary school shooting ripped the heart of a small community in South Texas.
On Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday, I would encourage churches across our convention to say thank you to these amazing volunteers who answer the call to run towards rather than away from disasters to offer the compassion of Christ to hurting people. I would encourage churches to offer information on how others can get involved through their Baptist state convention and to consider giving through their state convention to support the work of disaster relief. Every mobile kitchen, shower trailer, chainsaw unit and roofing nail is available because Southern Baptists choose to give cooperatively to support missions and ministry like Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. SBDR is one of our greatest examples that we are better together.
Coy Webb is Crisis Response Director for Send Relief. He served 14 years as the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief before joining Send Relief.