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Lengthy post-Charley ministry ahead for Southern Baptists

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–In the week following Hurricane Charley’s assault on southwest Florida, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have prepared nearly 200,000 meals, cleared trees and debris from roadways and houses, and provided showers and water purification for thousands of displaced residents.

Since Hurricane Charley made landfall Aug. 13 with winds reaching 145 mph, more than 800 Southern Baptist volunteers representing 17 Baptist state conventions have been deployed for service in the storm’s path stretching from Fort Myers, Fla., northeastward to South Daytona Beach.

“It’s imperative that Southern Baptists throughout North America guard against complacency toward this disaster,” said Jim Burton, director of the North American Mission Board’s volunteer mobilization team. “The hurts are deep, the needs are real and the challenge is God-sized. We won’t wrap this up anytime soon. This one will be a marathon.”

Slightly more than 100 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams or units have been activated to date. National coordinators of the response say the activation of additional teams and units could eclipse last year’s record of more than 160 units activated along the East Coast in response to Hurricane Isabel.

Meanwhile, about 600 chainsaw projects had been completed as of Aug. 18, with nearly 2,000 more projects remaining.

“Before long, we will move into the rebuild stage of this disaster,” Burton said. “That’s when we’ll survey homes and families to offer assistance to those who were uninsured or underinsured. They’ll typically get some help from FEMA, but that often doesn’t go far enough. That’s where volunteer labor can make the difference in recovery.”

Volunteers, mostly housed in local Southern Baptist churches throughout the affected areas, have been working 18-hour days for the past week while enduring daytime high temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

“There’s no way we could do this without the Lord’s strength,” said Bill Haynes, a member of Fairview Baptist Church in Greer, S.C. Haynes and 18 other volunteers from four churches in Greer and Greenville, S.C., helped prepare 8,000 meals Aug. 18 at a mobile kitchen unit at First Baptist Church, South Daytona Beach.

“We fill a definite call to do this,” Haynes said. “Our first and foremost priority is to serve our Lord … and letting people see Jesus in us.”

Haynes, whose team will be returning home Aug. 22, said volunteers also will need time to recover physically, emotionally and spiritually from the intensity of ministering during a crisis.

“We will cry together,” he said. “When we leave here we will consider ourselves victims of Hurricane Charley, but it’s worth the costs…. We are feeding hungry people. We are feeding them physical food and spiritual food when we have a chance we tell them about Jesus.”

Likewise, Burton said, he’s also deeply concerned about the Florida pastors and church staff members who are enduring this crisis personally with their families while ministering to their congregation and community.

“Experience tells us that caregivers bear the greatest brunt of a disaster,” Burton said. “It’s not unusual to see a huge turnover among ministers within two years of a disaster.

“A church is only as healthy as its pastor. Likewise, the recovery of these churches will very much parallel the personal recovery of their pastors. One of the most daunting challenges faced following a disaster is ministering to the ministers. If we fail to facilitate their healing, their churches will fail to heal.”

Describing Southern Baptist Disaster Relief as a “faith-based ministry,” Burton said local associations, state conventions and NAMB focus first on meeting critical needs in times of crisis and trust God to provide the resources.

“Financial contributions to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief help leaders to formulate a long-term plan of care and recovery for ministers,” he said. “We’re very dependent on Southern Baptists’ generosity toward disaster relief to be able to respond in an expedient, meaningful and efficient manner. We need the resources to get in there not just to help them immediately but to help them long-term.”

Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

For regular updates on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net/dr.

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  • Lee Weeks