When a tornado ripped the front porch from his home in Arkadelphia, Ark., the owner had no idea how much his life was about to change — forever.
Following the March 1 tornadoes that devastated portions of southwest Arkansas, a Disaster Relief team from the Southwest Arkansas Baptist Association went to the man's home to rebuild the porch.
While helping to repair his house, Jerry Creek, director of missions for the association, explained to the man that while this storm had lasted only a few moments, many of life's storms are even more devastating. He pointed out that only one thing will stand in those storms — Jesus Christ. Shortly afterward, the man prayed aloud to receive Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
Such stories are common among Disaster Relief team members. Each year, hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of disaster victims are introduced to the gospel through the various relief efforts sponsored by the Brotherhood Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Disaster Relief volunteers sewed over 800,000 meals to disaster victims in 1996. Everyone who received a meal also received a gospel tract.
In the first quarter of '97, volunteers sewed over 500,000 meals to disaster victims, primarily in California, Arkansas, and Kentucky And with the June 1 onset of hurricane season, Brotherhood President James Williams expects these numbers to increase dramatically.
In addition to meals, volunteers also help with cleanup, rebuilding, and child care. Currently, over 12,000 volunteers and 160 mobile feeding units stand ready to help victims of tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. When they respond, the volunteers reflect the Lord's love through their actions, with the hope that they will also be able to declare the gospel message.
"This is Christian love in action," Williams said. 'When we help those in need, we're obeying the Lord's command in James 2:15-16. In crisis situations, we have the opportunity to radically demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ and respond to hurts around us."
But, as Williams says, this does not replace the need to proclaim the gospel.
"Sometimes Jesus met needs before proclaiming the good news, but other times He reversed it. Disaster Relief incorporates both kinds of ministry" he said.
Through these ministries, Williams has seen the Lord produce a variety of results. "In six years, we have seen probably thousands come to faith in Jesus Christ," he said. "But we've also seen new churches started as a result of Disaster Relief efforts. We've even seen dying churches revitalized."
Williams recounted a struggling church in Missouri. Through relief efforts following massive flooding, many came to know the Lord and the church was rejuvenated. After relief efforts in Massachusetts, one mayor was anxious to see a Southern Baptist church started in his town. The mayor was Jewish.
Jim Richardson, director of Georgia Disaster Relief, also took part in the Massachusetts relief efforts. He reflected on an 80-year-old woman who cared for her 60-year-old blind and retarded son in their Boston home. "The lady experienced a great deal of damage to her basement during the floods. When we arrived, we found the basement dry but in desperate need of disinfection.
"Through our conversation, we found that she was fearful of her neighbors," he said. "In fact, she was so afraid that she had three uncashed Social Security checks. We took her to the bank, which gave us the opportunity to share the gospel of our Lord Jesus with her.
'We witnessed to her and gave her a New Testament," he added. "Through tears she expressed her joy in knowing Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
"When we left, she was clutching her 'new' New Testament," he said. 'We all cried tears of joy from seeing this lady's hopelessness turn to hope because of our Redeemer."
Reflections on Hugo Relief
by Mickey Caison
"The men and women (of Disaster Relief) who came to help rebuild our community did not stop with their physical labor. They ministered to the community. They loved us, counseled us, witnessed to us, and debriefed us. Their holistic approach to disaster relief provided a foundation for the community's complete recovery from Hurricane Hugo.
"Yes, roads were cleared, yards cleaned, fallen trees removed from homes, roofs repaired, and homes rebuilt. But more important, hope was restored, prayers offered, the gospel of Jesus presented, and Christians were strengthened. Life became worth living again.
"In the years following Hugo, Providence Baptist Church was provided countless opportunities to minister spiritually to Macedonia and Berkely County. People of the community came to us and thanked us for the help they received from the church. They asked why we were involved in disaster relief and why other churches in our community were not.
"At that point, we were able to introduce them to Jesus Christ, His love, and His mercy. We began to baptize individuals upon their confession of faith in Christ and this, in turn, led to opportunities to reach families. Since the arrival of Hurricane Hugo, baptisms have increased, as well as attendance, contributions, and ministries."
Mickey Caison, former pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Macedonia, S.C., is currently National Disaster Relief director, Brotherhood Commission, SBC.
Brotherhood Disaster Relief Report Excerpts
"I wish I had time to tell you about the man living in his house that was upside down (after a hurricane in the Caribbean), which your Southern Baptist volunteers turned right-side-up, as well as the decision he made at the Villa Baptist Church during the worship service the next Sunday.
"I wish I had time to you about the Oregon Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding unit serving Tillamook, Ore. They spoke to a person who had pastored a church in another denomination. He left the church, as well as organized religion, thirty years ago when the church he pastored split. His question was, 'Who are you people?' Dale Pugh shared the gospel with him. When they completed a prayer of repentance and rededication, the pastor of Tillamook First Baptist just happened to walk in. He began follow-up right away.
"I wish I had time to tell you about the lady who came up to the Kentucky feeding unit in Ripley, W.Va., and asked, 'Who are you people?' Forty-five minutes later she made a profession of faith after praying to receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
"I wish I had time to tell you about the thread of redemption God has woven around the world because Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers fed Kurdish refugees in the mountains of Iraq and Iran at the close of Desert Storm. Now, there are Kurdish Bible studies, Kurdish churches in Dallas, Nashville, and around the world, as well as a translation of Scripture into the Kurdish language."
— James D. Williams, president