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MOORE, Okla. (BP) -- Disaster relief ministry is a marathon, a chief coordinator said, and Southern Baptists are in it for the long haul, scurrying to help in Moore, Okla., and other places where creation's groaning has left people in need.

"The immediate need is the focus, but we have to remember that we are still in a long-term response from Hurricane Sandy. Obviously there will be long-term rebuild needs in Moore. Southern Baptists are unique in approaching disaster relief ministry as a marathon," Fritz Wilson, executive director of disaster relief at the North American Mission Board, said.

Ongoing Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work spanned seven states as of May 23, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.

In Moore, where a historic EF5 tornado moved through an Oklahoma City suburb, Sam Porter of Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief said the response by the yellow-clad Southern Baptist workers was immediate.

"We're only 36 hours past the tornado touchdown here in Moore, Okla., but we have had an army of volunteers ready," Porter said in a video update as workers moved around behind him Wednesday morning, organizing a feeding unit at First Baptist Church.

Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said workers have been on site from Carney to Prague to Shawnee and back to Norman where tornadoes carved a 60-mile track Sunday afternoon.

"We still have people working there. We need to always make sure we don't forget the smaller towns just because the city got hit," Porter said.

Porter expressed gratitude to all who have donated to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief to support the efforts, and he relayed the importance of prayer.

"We cherish your prayers more than anything else because it gets long, it gets hard, it gets pretty stressful," Porter said. "I cherish prayers for me as a director. I have to make a lot of decisions to impact the people that need it most and lost so much -- lives, family members and of course all their personal belongings."

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma reported that an incident command center has been set up at First Baptist Moore, and they were circulating three telephone numbers for use by people in need of assistance.

Monetary donations and prayer are the best ways to help, the convention said, and they're not set up to handle material donations such as food and clothing.

"We normally do not deploy volunteers other than those who have been through our Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief training," the convention said, adding, "Individuals who are trained in SBC Disaster Relief in another state need to contact their state DR directors to volunteer."

Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, tweeted that he was surveying tornado damage and meeting families. "My heart breaks for fellow Okies," he wrote.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin again directed attention to Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, tweeting, "Another great charity to consider donating to is the @bgcodr."

Besides Oklahoma, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are actively engaged in Peoria and Marseilles, Ill.; Kokomo, Ind.; Saginaw, Mich., Carthage and Hannibal, Mo., and Granbury and West, Texas.

SBDR teams from Kentucky, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia have accomplished the Illinois work, primarily mud-out jobs from flooding in April. In Kokomo more than 200 homes were flooded last month.

Southern Baptist chaplains were able to provide crucial ministry to families who lost loved ones in the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion. Cleanup work continues there as well.

Wilson said NAMB is beginning to think in terms of a tiered system of responses for SBDR efforts. The levels can help people understand the different phases of a response and the needs that are met in each phase.

"Tier one is where we are now with Moore," Wilson said. "That is the time when trained assessors help state and national leaders determine where credentialed, trained volunteers are needed for immediate response. There is specific work that needs to be done by trained volunteers."

Tier two comes, Wilson said, when church-to-church ministry can take place after the immediate needs are met and the risks to those responding are minimized, making training less crucial. Tier three is the long-term rebuild phase.

"We were nearing the end of long-term rebuild in response to when Katrina hit," Wilson said. "All the focus was on New Orleans, but we could not drop the work in Florida. We have to complete our commitments, and Southern Baptists are good at that."

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief." Currently all funds donated will be directed to recovery in the Oklahoma City area.

To give directly to the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief fund, visit okdisasterhelp.com.

Compiled by Joe Conway of the North American Mission Board and Erin Roach, assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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