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State leader on site with National Guard

PADUCAH, Ky. (BP)–Not long after he wrapped up his Sunday sermon, pastor John Mark Toby got the call.

Toby, pastor of Beacon Hill Baptist Church in Somerset, Ky., was deployed Feb. 1 to serve with the Kentucky National Guard’s emergency operations center in Paducah following the ice storm that crippled much of the Bluegrass State several days earlier.

Toby has been a lieutenant colonel chaplain with the Kentucky National Guard for 25 years. It’s one of many hats Toby wears — he also is president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Many of the 4,000 deployed guardsmen have conducted door-to-door surveys in communities that still are without power, in addition to distributing water and other supplies to residents who desperately need them.

Toby, meanwhile, has focused on the soldiers’ spiritual needs.

“I’ve been giving out Gideon Bibles and praying with soldiers and just checking on them, encouraging them,” he said.

His secondary mission “is working with government officials in trying to be responsive to any needs they might have as well, from the governor on down to county judge executives … to try and see if there are any kind of needs that we can help with.”

Toby’s contacts included Gov. Steve Beshear, with whom Toby shared a time of prayer and offered a Gideon Bible.

While it’s important to remember the storm victims who continue to need help, Toby said government officials also need prayer and encouragement.

“They’re under a lot of pressure,” Toby said. “They’ve all been working long hours … away from their own families. They’ve got a task bigger than themselves right now.

“God is able to do all things and He can help them even in these tight situations,” Toby said.

In his journey through western Kentucky on the way to Paducah, Toby made frequent stops to see how Kentucky Baptist congregations were weathering the storm. He also was one of several Kentucky Baptist Convention officials who toured the state in early February, assessing the damage and letting pastors and directors of missions know they were not alone in their disaster response efforts.

KBC Executive Director Bill Mackey, who toured cities and towns along the Western Kentucky Parkway, noted that “the response of the churches has been a tremendous witness. I’ve seen staff people who’ve gone without sleep and who have been on the job [when] they couldn’t even stay in their own homes. I am especially grateful to God for the way I’ve seen the church staff and churches responding to the needs.”
Drew Nichter is news director of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

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