Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story claimed that 2021 saw a record number of salvation decisions through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. After publication, Baptist Press learned that at least one earlier year (2010) saw an even higher number of decisions.
NASHVILLE (BP) – More than 2,100 professions of faith came as a result of the ministry of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) in 2021, which is nearly a record number for professions of faith in a single year for the ministry.
The full total of 2,133 professions of faith is just one of the positive statistics from SBDR.
Other positive reports include more than 83,000 meals distributed, more than 51,000 volunteer days throughout the year and more than 10,000 Gospel presentations.
Sam Porter is the national director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for Send Relief with the North American Mission Board. He told Baptist Press that the unique service-based ministry of disaster relief provides the opportunity to provide hurting people with hope.
“I love this ministry,” Porter said. “In disaster relief we have the opportunity to go to people’s homes that have never darkened the door of a church at all. We’re able to bring hope in the form of work, service and food, but as we bring this hope, we then talk to them about real and eternal hope.”
In addition to dealing with the ongoing pandemic, disaster relief workers and volunteers responded to a variety of intense natural disasters in 2021, including wildfires on the West Coast and Hurricane Ida.
Porter said although the continuing challenges of COVID-19 were difficult, it was an opportunity for disaster relief ministry to talk to people pondering the deep questions of life.
“I think with the global pandemic of COVID-19 … it made the whole world more aware of the fragile nature of life,” Porter said. “It caused people to think more about themselves and be more open to talking about what would happen if you had gotten COVID and not gotten over it.”
Additionally, serving through the pandemic may have helped develop new strategies that enabled more Gospel conversations through DR ministry.
Due to the contact restrictions brought about by COVID-19, DR workers were often limited in the interactions they were able to have with people coming to collect food and supplies.
That is, until DR representatives developed the idea to serve people using a drive-through or drive-by method. Whenever possible, DR representatives would instruct visitors to drive their vehicles into a line where volunteers could hand food and supplies in through the car window, allowing for minimal direct contact.
This strategy began at a few locations in late 2020, Porter said, and is now employed whenever possible.
It contrasts with what often happened previously, when DR volunteers simply prepared food or collected supplies and brought them to a specific location for distribution.
Porter said the new method allows DR volunteers more opportunities to personally connect with visitors and have the chance to share the hope of the Gospel in a way that “becomes infectious.”
In addition to new service and evangelism strategies, Scottie Stice, director of Disaster Relief for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention said ministry to migrants and immigrants was a very important emphasis in his state.
“The Gospel mandates that we share the strangers in our land,” Stice said. “We are glad to share the Gospel with immigrants and work with our churches in ministering to them as well.”
No matter the strategies or ministries that contributed to the record number of salvations, Porter said he is simply thankful for the ministry of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the organization’s emphasis on evangelism.
“It’s incredible how God has blessed our disaster relief ministry across the whole United States and around the world,” Porter said. “We have had a lot of decisions because it (intentionally sharing the Gospel) has become part of our DNA.
‘‘If we’re a faith-based organization we need to be able to share our faith as we go. We’re thrilled we get to help people not only physically, but spiritually as well. That’s become the heartbeat of all Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.”