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Gift cards for Katrina victims reflect Baptists’ compassion

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Your $200 gift to us is more like getting $2,000,” a seminary student with a wife and two daughters wrote to the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the flooding triggered by Hurricane Katrina, the floodwaters reached “about a foot from the ceiling” of their apartment on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus, the seminarian wrote. “… [W]e lost almost everything we owned, except one vehicle, a computer and a few clothes.”

“This letter is a feeble attempt to express our gratitude. It was the fact that you gave [the gift] that was greater than that of the gift itself.

“I love being a Christian,” he wrote, “and I love being a Southern Baptist…. [God] has proven time and again that He is our provider.”

The $200 gift cards distributed through Baptist channels in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama reflected just a small part of nearly $12.5 million in disaster relief funds sent to the hurricane-ravaged region from Southern Baptists’ gifts through the Cooperative Program.

The $12.5 million was made possible by gifts from churches across the country that surpassed the Southern Baptist Convention’s fiscal year budget.

Another seminarian whose wife and five children also lived on the New Orleans campus said in his letter of thanks to the SBC, “We’ve lost virtually everything that we owned but gained so much through this trial. God is teaching us to trust Him fully. He’s been so good to us. We still have our five children and one another. What more could ask for?

“Thank you and all of the Southern Baptist Convention for helping us buy presents for our children,” he wrote. “May the blessing come back tenfold.”

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, recounted the distribution of the gift cards during the opening session of the EC’s Feb. 20-21 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Printed on the cards with the name of the Southern Baptist Convention were the words, “ministering through the Cooperative Program,” the SBC’s channel for missions and ministry outreach throughout the world.

The gift cards extended the witness of Southern Baptists as a caring people to Katrina victims as well as merchants where the $200 was spent, Chapman said.

The distribution took place from October through early December; the cards were coded so they could only be spent on merchandise rather than cashed at an ATM machine.

Last September, the Executive Committee, acting ad interim on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, voted unanimously to use beyond-the-budget Cooperative Program contributions received for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 in three areas of great need among Southern Baptists: One-half of the total was earmarked for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to aid faculty and students recover from losses and to help rebuild the campus; one-fourth was distributed to the three state conventions most affected by the hurricane to keep ministers in the field and to assist churches in recovery; and one-fourth was sent to the North American Mission Board to support the extensive hurricane disaster relief operations.

The Cooperative Program, which supports Southern Baptists’ network of ministries, is separate from the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fund of which 100 percent of the gifts received aid the victims of hurricanes and other disasters.

Chapman noted that each Southern Baptist entity had a part in the $12.5 million in disaster relief because the overage otherwise would have been distributed according to SBC budget allocation to the various entities. And California pastor Rob Zinn told the Executive Committee, “… [E]very one of you had a part in [the $12 million for disaster aid]. That didn’t come from somebody rich. It just came from people like us.”

The Great Commission Council, which is composed of the chief executives of SBC national entities, unanimously supported Chapman’s recommendation last fall to devote the overage to disaster relief. Although entities do not include possible overages in planning their budgets, they use extra contributions to fund non-budgeted priorities.

The Cooperative Program is a partnership between state and regional conventions and the SBC. The state/regional conventions retain a portion of churches’ Cooperative Program contributions to support work in their respective areas and they forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. Distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention, but on average about 38 percent is forwarded to the national convention (SBC).