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SBC Disaster Relief workers honored at annual conference

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Ten Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers have been recognized for their commitment and sacrifice in disaster relief efforts across North America and the world.

More than 300 leaders from 33 state Baptist conventions attended the 2005 Disaster Relief Roundtable meeting April 26-28 at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.

About 31,000 trained volunteers currently are part of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network nationwide. Disaster relief units generally are owned and operated by state conventions, local associations and churches and are coordinated nationally by the North American Mission Board.

In 2004, more than 15,000 trained Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers gave their time, talents and energies in response to 193 natural disasters which included hurricanes, an earthquake, floods, tornadoes and ice storms.

Southern Baptists prepared more than 3.5 million meals, repaired more than 2,600 buildings and completed nearly 11,000 cleanup and recovery projects — all record responses.

Jim Didlake, who has served as disaster relief director with the Mississippi Baptist Convention since 1982, was presented the 2005 National Disaster Relief Roundtable Robert E. Dixon Award. The award is named in honor of a Southern Baptist Texan who pioneered the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry.

Mickey Caison, NAMB’s adult volunteer mobilization manager, praised Didlake’s leadership during last fall’s hurricane season. Didlake is a member of First Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss.

“It has been said, Jim serves as the ‘Jiminy Cricket’ of disaster relief — our conscience — reminding us that ministry belongs to God and not us. He calls us to better ourselves because we represent Christ. He understands that every number represents a person. He has never gotten away from that. If you want to know what a Christ-like leader in disaster relief looks like, look at Jim Didlake.”

Disaster relief ministry leaders in Virginia and Mississippi received the 2005 National Disaster Relief Roundtable Outstanding Achievement Award:

— Jack Noble, disaster relief director for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Under Noble’s leadership, the convention’s disaster relief ministry has grown from its inception in 2002 to include more than 500 trained volunteers. The ministry also includes a shower unit, mobile feeding unit, command unit and nine chainsaw units. Noble is a member of North Main Baptist Church in Danville, Va.

“Jack’s emphasis is always intentional evangelism in every aspect of disaster relief and that is the foundation of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia training,” Caison said.

— Donna Swarts, who works with the Mississippi Baptist Convention Disaster Relief ministry. Swarts is credited with helping create the national childcare manual for disaster relief ministry. She is a member of Goodwater Baptist Church in Magee, Miss.

“I have been most impressed by the way she ministers through her work to both the volunteers as well as those who are affected by disasters,” Caison said. “Whether she is holding a child or witnessing to a lost person, she lives out her faith in her daily walk. She has been an inspiration to all of us who work with her.”

Seven disaster relief ministry leaders from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia and West Virginia were presented the 2005 National Disaster Relief Roundtable Distinguished Service Award:

— Bob and Sarah Helms, both retired colonels in the U.S. Army, who served for 12 years as leadership partners with the Alabama Baptist Convention. The Helmses, trainers in water purification, have helped coordinate relief efforts in the Caribbean and El Salvador, as well as the Middle East. The couple spent more than three months in New York City following the September 2001 terrorist attacks helping coordinate more than 1,000 volunteers who cleaned about 650 apartments.

The Helmses recently relocated to Winchester, Tenn., where they are members of First Baptist Church.

“The Helms are spiritual giants in their witness to those affected by disaster as well as to the volunteers,” Caison said.

— Jim Richardson, director of the Georgia Baptist Convention Disaster Relief since 1996. He is a member of Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga. A former police officer, Richardson served as pastor of three Georgia churches in Pinehurst, Moultrie and Columbus before joining the state convention staff. In addition to national responses throughout the United States, Richardson has led international response teams to South America, Central America, the Middle East and Asia.

“As he prepares his teams for the activity of the day, he uses the Bible and prayer to encourage volunteers to help those affected by disaster,” Caison said.

— Fred and Rose Kinsey, members of Monroe Missionary Baptist Church, Monroe, Mich. Fred serves as disaster relief director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. The Kinseys, both trained national task force members, served during last fall’s hurricane season as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief liaisons with the American Red Cross.

“They worked tirelessly to support American Red Cross mass care and logistics and NAMB leadership so the kitchens in the field were established, supported and able to serve clients effectively,” Caison said.

— Mike Oberschmidt, who serves in disaster relief ministries through the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. An engineer by profession, Oberschmidt is credited with helping the Virginia disaster relief fleet develop a water purification unit as well as a mobile shower unit. He has led a number of international responses as well as the renovation of two Royal Ambassador camps in Virginia. Oberschmidt is helping start a new church in Fredericksburg, Va., called Gateway Community Church.

“His quiet strength, impressive skills and faithful commitment have contributed significantly to the development of a strong disaster relief ministry in Virginia,” Caison said.

— Leon White, who served as state director of missions for the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists for about seven years. He and his wife, Sarah, recently moved to Alabaster, Ala., to retire. White plans to continue an itinerant preaching ministry in Alabama.

Before moving to West Virginia, the Whites served as missionaries with the International Mission Board and NAMB for nearly 30 years.

Most recently White led several in-state responses in the wake of record flooding. “His outstanding work has created a change of perception about Southern Baptists within West Virginia, and his distinguished service and influence has left a personal legacy,” Caison said. “In West Virginia, Leon White has been ‘Mr. Disaster Relief’ for Southern Baptists.”

In other business, the 2005 National Disaster Relief Steering Committee renamed the Outstanding Achievement Award the Joel W. Phillips Outstanding Achievement Award.

Phillips, who served as national offsite coordinator for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief with the NAMB, died of a heart attack at his home on Sept. 29, 2004. He was a member of First Baptist Church in Conyers, Ga.

Before joining NAMB in 2000, Phillips served for 22 years on staff at four Southern Baptist churches in Georgia as a youth minister, associate pastor and senior pastor.

Phillips authored several Southern Baptist Disaster Relief training manuals and is credited with modernizing NAMB’s disaster operations center with state-of-the-art technology. Phillips also pioneered NAMB’s Web-based system designed to connect volunteers with mission projects around the country at www.thebridge.namb.net.

A native of Raleigh, N.C., and veteran of the U.S. Navy, Phillips was a graduate of the Baptist College of Charleston, S.C., and Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta.

Phillips is survived by his wife, Linda, and four adult children: Leah, Ruth, Andrew and Seth.

The Phillips family was presented this special award in honor of Joel’s commitment to disaster relief ministries.

“Joel was a deeply spiritual man,” Caison said. “His love for the Bible was also very evident in his life. He was always the teacher. Helping others understand God’s Word was his calling, and he taught others very well. He could apply the teachings and principles of the Bible to the situations and circumstances of life. It was natural for him to make biblical applications, anytime, anywhere.”

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  • Lee Weeks