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Southern Baptists honor volunteers during Disaster Relief Sunday

Florida Baptist Convention Disaster Relief volunteer do a clean out of a 7500 square foot home in Heritage Farm in Fort Myers , FL on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 after Hurricane Ian brought more then 4 feet of water into the home. The Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief teams are providing food and other rescue help across the communities effected by Hurricane Ian last week. Alan Youngblood/Send Reief

Editor’s note: Sunday, June 2, is Disaster Relief Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – Southern Baptists have invested significant resources in their capacity to respond with physical help and spiritual hope in the aftermath of natural disasters and other crises.

Whether the fallout impacts hundreds of homes or a few dozen, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers quickly engage those dealing with often catastrophic loss.

“The yellow shirts of SBDR volunteers often earn recognition during widespread, major disasters,” said Coy Webb, who led Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief for years before taking over as Crisis Response director for Send Relief, the SBC’s compassion ministry arm. “But SBDR also responds to more isolated disasters. If a single tornado touches down in a small town and impacts only a few homes, a local SBDR team is oftentimes still showing up on the scene to help.”

This Sunday, June 2, Southern Baptists have set aside a day to celebrate and thank those who sacrificially serve through SBDR.

Whenever a major storm front blows through, local state SBDR directors get “on the horn” with their volunteers in a local area who leap into action to assess the damage and help coordinate any needed response.

If the damage appears like it might be more widespread than a single state’s volunteers will be able to manage on their own, they reach out to Webb and other state SBDR directors who then activate a national response.

“What SBDR is best known for is likely our responses to hurricanes,” Webb said, “but we’ve seen major responses to fires, severe tornado outbreaks and flooding. Just this year, Send Relief and other SBDR partners helped distribute hay to support Texas ranchers in the aftermath of the Smokehouse Creek Fire that consumed more than 1 million acres.”

So far, 2024 has seen a particularly active tornado season with storms over Memorial Day weekend killing at least 22 people. The storms generated new responses in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois, which added to the ongoing tornado responses in Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Iowa.

“Disaster Relief is an area where the whole SBC family comes together and makes a real difference,” current SBC president Bart Barber posted last year. “Your support of the entire [SBC Cooperative Program] pipeline – state conventions and their DR ministries on the front lines and [the North American Mission Board] and [Send Relief] in support … plays a role” in providing the supplies those volunteers use in response.

And those efforts fuel the work that hundreds of volunteers carry out each year.

As an example, Randy Garrett, SBDR director for Arkansas Baptists, told Baptist Press on May 28 that he expected around 100 volunteers to support the tornado response in his state.

In a major response, SBDR teams across the nation will regularly send multiple hundreds who feed storm survivors and help them repair the damage done to their homes.

All of those hands use their physical help to point people to the eternal, spiritual hope found only in the gospel.

“When I was SBDR director in Kentucky, we always saw ourselves as an extension of the local churches in the affected area,” Webb said. “We took every opportunity we had to share the Gospel and direct those we served to stay connected to those churches for long-term discipleship.”