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Vols prepare 14,000 meals in Georgia

GORI, Georgia (BP)–As Russian tanks pulled back from a ridge just three miles away, a team of Texas Baptist volunteers moved into Gori, a key city in the Black Sea country of Georgia, to set up a feeding operation for thousands of families displaced from their homes by fighting.

Now those volunteers have turned the operation over to teams from Kentucky and Oklahoma after serving almost 14,000 hot meals to people who had nothing else to eat.

“Texas Baptist Men did a tremendous job as the first volunteer responders on the scene in Georgia,” said Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in Europe and the Middle East for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization. “They needed to make something out of nothing and they set up a wonderful feeding kitchen that the Oklahoma and Kentucky teams continue to utilize, along with national partners. It smells good; these guys know how to cook with joy!”

The seven-member team of disaster relief specialists from Texas arrived in Georgia in late August and immediately tackled the challenge of finding everything needed to gear up a cooking operation that could serve several thousands meals a day, said team leader Larry Blanchard.

“I think this was the best team ever put together,” said Blanchard, who is a member of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas. “All of them have had long tenure of working in adverse circumstances. They had all kinds of expertise and knew how to bob and weave and duck the big ones and still come out winners.”

In spite of the challenges common to international relief work — finding transportation and interpreters, purchasing supplies, not having their luggage delivered until almost time to go back home — the volunteers demonstrated ingenuity and found local partners especially helpful, Blanchard said. Over the course of eight days, the Texans and their partners were able to serve almost 14,000 meals.

“Our ministry partner from Tblisi did a wonderful job, and we had terrific support from the church members there in Gori,” Blanchard said. “The pastor’s sister-in-law became our head cook because she could season the food to taste like the people would want it, not like we’d normally do it in Texas. By the last day, 16 women were in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and chopping carrots, onion, and parsley for the next day.”

Having so much local support meant the volunteers could focus some of their resources on much-needed repairs and remodeling on the church building, Blanchard added. The volunteers from Kentucky and Oklahoma arrived as the Texans were preparing to leave and were expected to be on the ground for about 10 days.

The Texans found the people of Gori deeply grateful that Southern Baptists care about people in need, Blanchard said.

“One boy about 12 years old or so came by. His house had been bombed and he was crying. Our ministry partner from Tblisi was able to console him,” Blanchard said. “People would come to us, put their hands over their hearts, and bow as their way of thanking us. We couldn’t understand what each other said, but our hearts were in tune with theirs.”

Thousands of people in Georgia feel Southern Baptists have come to their rescue, Blanchard added.

“Without a shadow of doubt, we were blessed,” he said. “God wanted to do a mighty work in Gori and we were blessed that He let us go help Him do it.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly