ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–More than 1,500 Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers from 25 states are cooking meals, cutting up fallen trees and providing childcare in six states in the path of destruction left by Hurricane Ivan from the Florida Panhandle to the Midwest.
Disaster relief officials now are keeping an eye on the fourth hurricane in a month to threaten Florida as Jeanne, several hundred miles east of the Bahamas, is migrating toward the southeast coast where it could hit early next week.
“The last few days, we’ve prayed Jeanne wouldn’t come ashore at all, but now it appears to be headed for the east coast of Florida or the Carolinas,” said Jim Burton, disaster relief director of the North American Mission Board, which coordinates the SBC’s response. “At least if it does come ashore on [Florida’s] east coast, we probably wouldn’t have to evacuate our units as we’ve done twice the last few weeks because we’re working in western Florida, Alabama and further west.”
Burton said Southern Baptists are providing an average of 50,000 meals a day in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Ohio. Operations in South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee, meanwhile, have ended.
SBC volunteers, the third-largest disaster relief force in the country, have been actively responding for nearly seven weeks, providing 1.2 million meals to date and completing more than 4,000 cleanup and recovery projects. In addition, they’ve been asked to help both the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army staff their mobile kitchens and drive their delivery vehicles.
“And today Southern Baptists put in an order for enough food for 1.2 million more meals,” Burton said. “We’re going to be doing this for a long time, and we haven’t even started the long-term rebuilding process that will probably take years.”
Disaster relief officials continue to ask Southern Baptists to pray for the victims and for the thousands of volunteers serving in extremely adverse conditions to minister and witness to the millions affected by the storms.
“Please pray for the continued strength and safety of our disaster relief teams,” said Robert E (Bob) Reccord, NAMB president, in an e-mail to thousands of Southern Baptists. “Many have traveled a long way to cut fallen trees, counsel discouraged people, clear debris and cook meals in Jesus’ name. God is powerfully blessing their ministry of compassion as many people are accepting Christ.”
In Pensacola, within 48 hours after the winds died down following the Hurricane Ivan’s landfall, Southern Baptist relief workers from Oklahoma were feeding hundreds their first full meal at Olive Baptist Church.
In the midst of efforts to set up the feeding lines, one young woman drove up in her battered compact car, asking workers if radio announcements were correctly stating that hot meals were being served there.
“My mother is diabetic and I have been running around trying to find her food,” she said, crying after a confused volunteer told her it would be the next day before meals were served. The young woman became calm after workers provided her with some foodstuffs to take home where a tree had fallen inside the house.
Later, after workers were updated on the status of the feeding line, scores of others navigated the church’s campus to stand in long lines for hot balanced meals. One man offered to pay, but a member of the good-natured relief team just gave the man a hug and offered to carry his plate to the car.
Jackie Roberts had been feeding her mother who is on a respirator and other family members peanut butter and cold cuts for four days, she said. She hollered across to the workers, “Thank you so much, this is a godsend.”
Roberts, a member of Sixth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Pensacola, said “this is what we are supposed to do as Christians. These volunteers have come so far, sleeping on their trucks. They love God more than they love themselves.”
When an unexpected semi-trailer filled with ice arrived on the property, Florida Baptist volunteers were first unsure if the ice was meant for their use, but after they started handing it out to people in line, two other trucks of ice showed up.
“Now that is just like the fishes and loaves, said Florida Baptist volunteer Don Miller, director of missions for the Lake County Baptist Association. “When we began giving it away, it multiplied.”
The North American Mission Board has prepared an up-to-date two-and-a-half minute video to serve as a prayer resource for individuals and churches. It’s available for viewing and downloading at www.NAMB.net and would be appropriate for showing during Sunday worship services and Wednesday prayer meetings.
Since Aug. 1, Southern Baptists have given nearly $400,000 to NAMB to help cover the cost of this unprecedented disaster relief response. Gifts may be given to associations and state Baptist conventions involved in the response. Donations to NAMB can be made online using a credit card at www.NAMB.net.