News Articles

Gulf Coast DOMs develop DR network

GULFPORT, Miss. (BP)–Directors of mission from associations in four states that border the Gulf Coast met June 29 in Gulfport, Miss., to discuss how they could help each other in the aftermath of a hurricane or other disaster.

The result of the five-hour dialogue at the offices of Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Gulfport, Miss., was an agreement to organize a “Southern Gulf Coast DOM group” that would provide “staff-to-staff support” after a disaster.

The official name of the DOM network, membership parameters and various financial and organizational matters will be developed in further meetings, said C. Alan Woodward, director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board’s pastor/leadership development department, who facilitated the day’s discussions.

Building relationships was one reason for pulling the group together, said Steve Mooneyham, director of missions for the Gulf Coast association. While each of the 20 people at the meeting knew at least one other person present, no one knew everyone in the group, which included DOMs from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as associate DOMs and disaster relief directors.

“We’ve all been in this mixer [of hurricane disasters],” Mooneyham said in introductory remarks to the participants. “It just makes sense to me that we who have experienced hurricanes can work together to make the local experience better, to help each other — particularly in the early days when help is so crucial.”

Mooneyham’s idea was that hurricanes typically do not hit all the associations along the Gulf at once, but that at one time or another they have hit everywhere, so each of the directors knows what’s needed in disaster relief response. In the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, it could be a tremendous asset to have the support of a DOM from outside the affected region, Mooneyham said.

“This would free the [local] DOM to be checking out things outside the office,” Mooneyham said as others nodded their heads in agreement. “If all the states know what the plans are, then, for example, the Florida or Louisiana DOM could come in and organize, and the Mississippi team be out in the field, working through their already-established contacts and relationships.”

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina five years ago was still uppermost in the minds of the participants.

“When Katrina hit, we weren’t prepared for something like that,” said Linda Kittrell, Gulf Coast Baptist Association administrative assistant for the last 21 years. She stayed with her husband, daughter and dogs in their home about 11 miles due north of the Gulf during the storm. “Camille had been 30 years prior but didn’t do the damage Katrina did with its storm surge. Camille was here and gone. Katrina stayed. Its straight-line winds brought water up through the floorboards.”

Joe Arnold, director of missions in Louisiana’s Bayou Baptist Association, thought of a 2009 storm: “After Gustav, people didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Some things work in one area and not in another, and communication was nonexistent.”

“It’s critical for us to know who the other folks are who have worked through a disaster,” said Rick Barnhart of Alabama’s Baldwin Baptist Association. “What we’ve done is the creation of a collaborative effort for communication, awareness and ongoing relationships, developing a process that will enable us to be on top of a situation should the need arise.”

Jimmy Holcomb of Mississippi’s George-Greene Baptist Association said putting a DOM group together has the possibility of working on other levels in addition to disaster relief.

“This puts us at the front of the learning curve for associations helping each other in times of crises,” said Bob Greene of Florida’s Pensacola Baptist Association. “We could go elsewhere, not just in the southern Gulf Coast states.”

Allan Nix of Mississippi’s Jones Baptist Association noted, “In the course of working together there needs to be a sense of camaraderie, and we’re developing that here today. This has been very beneficial. It gave us an opportunity to meet likeminded individuals … so we can mutually encourage and support one another in a time of disaster.”

Mooneyham said the response he got from the others indicated the workshop had been a success.

“I wanted to have something that would be worthy of their time,” Mooneyham said. “What we need as DOMs when there’s a crisis is to have someone we trust answer the calls that come in, spread the load, whatever helps, and as early as possible.”

“An important leadership principle is to keep a balance between relationships and results,” Woodward said. “If we focus only on results, people might feel like they’re a project, that we are just using them to accomplish our goals. If we focus only on relationships, we may drink a lot of coffee but not get anything done.

“However, relationship-building is usually the best place to begin, because that creates a climate for the best results,” Woodward said. “We have made progress toward both of these today.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.