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Southern Baptist volunteers playing crucial role in recovery

IOWA CITY, Iowa (BP)–At a time when the American Red Cross finds its disaster relief fund depleted, Southern Baptist volunteers are stepping up and providing desperately needed assistance to victims of the storms and floods that have plagued the upper Midwest for almost a month.

Laura Howe, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, told ABC News, “Right now the balance in our disaster relief fund is sitting close to zero. We anticipate that the series of tornadoes and floods that we’ve had since the beginning of April is going to cost our organization about $15 million.”

The Red Cross has almost 850 disaster workers — mostly volunteers — on the ground in Iowa, Howe said.

Southern Baptists have worked 1,931 volunteer days and served 96,376 meals throughout the region, according to the North American Mission Board’s Disaster Operations Center.

One of those Southern Baptist response teams drove more than 14 hours from Alabama to set up a feeding unit at All Nations Baptist Church in Iowa City, Iowa. Vernon Lee, the 52-member team’s supervisor, said the group had provided 1,700 meals as of June 19. The Red Cross was delivering those meals in the flood zone.

When a Southern Baptist disaster relief team is on the ground helping people, all Southern Baptists are there too, Lee said.

“I appreciate disaster relief because people can see their … gifts being used with these Baptist kitchens and mud-out units,” he told Richard Nations, editor of the Iowa Baptist. “It’s like serving a cold cup of water in Jesus’ name. That’s what we do as DR people.”

Three more levees on the Mississippi River broke Thursday in Lincoln County, Mo., bringing more grief to the upper Midwest but holding out the promise of relief to people in downstream communities. Floodwater diverted onto fields and towns upstream mean less water headed downriver. According to the Associated Press, the National Weather Service lowered river crest predictions after several levees in Illinois broke overnight.

Weather forecasts, however, predicted showers and scattered thunderstorms in Missouri and Iowa both Friday and Saturday.

One member of the Alabama disaster relief team said he was volunteering because at one time he needed help after a disaster.

“I moved to New Orleans several years ago and hurricane Betsy came through. We had 28 inches of water in our front yard,” said 71-year-old Gene Ashley of Huntsville. “I determined that when I retired, I needed to give back a little bit of help.

“I retired early at age 57 and I decided to volunteer,” Ashley added. “I help build wheelchair ramps. I do a lot of disaster relief trips.”

Ashley’s role on the Alabama team is washing clothing, towels and cleaning rags. He also tracked down a lawnmower and grass trimmer and did some yard work around the church when he noticed nobody had been able to mow the grass because of the disaster relief activity.

Those Alabama volunteers were providing a great example of Christ’s love in action, said Jong Koo Lee, pastor of All Nations Baptist Church.

“My heart and the hearts of all the members of the church were broken at the sight of the unprecedented flood damage,” Lee said. “We prayed, ‘Oh Lord, what do you want us to do?’ And then Jimmy Barrentine [executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa] called to ask if our church would host the disaster relief team from the Alabama Baptist convention. And I said, ‘Yes, we would be glad to!’

“What [the volunteers] are doing is the physical manifestation of what Jesus is wanting to do,” Lee added. “I praise the volunteers but they are serving as the feet and hands of Jesus.”

Seeing the volunteers come so far to help others is “an object lesson in faith in action” for church members, Lee said. “They have learned the importance of having the love of Christ, of sharing the love of Christ by helping those who are hungry, weak or in need. As a result, many people expect to volunteer and to receive basic training in disaster relief from the church.”

Eight church members had been trained by James Robinson, director of missions in nearby Great River Baptist Association, Lee said. Several other members were going to be trained by the Alabama team while they are on site.
Compiled by Mark Kelly, an assistant editor at Baptist Press. Individuals and churches interested in helping with relief efforts in Iowa may contact the Baptist Convention of Iowa office at (515) 278-1566 or 2400 86th St., Suite 27, Des Moines IA 50322. Donations for disaster relief may be made at www.bcisbc.com and www.namb.net. Southern Baptist disaster relief is a “dollar in, dollar out” operation, with 100 percent of each donation going directly to relief operations.

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