"I am going to ask for what many of you have already done ... and that is to have a special time of prayer for our storm ravaged state and region. I am going to ask you to pray for families who are grieving and seeking to recover from the loss of a family member, maybe a child," Futral wrote in a column for The Baptist Record. "For others it may be the loss of a mom or dad, and for some it may be a brother or a sister."
Futral asked Mississippi Baptists to pray for people who have lost homes, businesses, possessions and irreplaceable memories.
"Pray for church families that day after day continue to try their best to carry others' burdens. Pray for our responders, those who are first responders, and those who are continuing to respond because of the enormity of the need and the continuing storms that come," he wrote. "Fatigue that is physical, mental and emotional sets in, and they need help and encouragement."
Mississippi Baptists are in the midst of the Covering Mississippi in Prayer campaign, a year-long call to daily prayer. Prayer rallies were conducted in each of the state's 82 counties during the months of January, February and March, and tens of thousands have responded by signing commitment cards to pray daily throughout the year.
Futral also called for a special offering on May 15 to support the efforts of volunteers who are members of the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force.
"The second thing that I am asking all of our folks to do is to care. That care can be expressed in financial support. Some of you have already done this, but on May 15, I trust that every one of our churches will support an opportunity for people to give," Futral wrote.
The executive director expressed gratitude for disaster relief volunteers who were trained, prepared and willing to be among the first responders when the tornadoes struck the South, including the devastation caused to the northeastern Mississippi town of Smithville.
"How thankful we are for what they do and the spirit with which they do it as they literally show up to serve the people and serve the Lord," Futral wrote, adding that the unusual spring season of disaster has drained the state's disaster relief resources.
"None of these funds will be used for anything other than for disaster relief. All of our folks who are working as caregivers and responders are volunteers. These funds do not pay salaries or administrative overhead costs. We simply get the job done to help people in need," Futral wrote.
Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force volunteers remain on active duty around the state, reported Don Gann, a consultant in the men's ministry department of the Mississippi convention.
The task force's main feeding unit, a fully self-contained mobile kitchen built around a large tractor-tractor rig, was stationed in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Amory and preparing about 3,000 meals per day for storm victims, volunteers, law enforcement officers and other response personnel who have been sent into some of the hardest-hit areas. About 20 volunteers were manning the kitchen there, Gann said.
A feeding team also was working from the kitchen of Central Hills Baptist Retreat near West in northeastern Mississippi. About five volunteers and the Central Hills kitchen staff were preparing meals there, Gann said, adding that a feeding unit stationed at a local church in the Lambert area of Quitman County also was preparing meals.
"Mississippi Baptist churches and associations in the storm areas have been very proactive in responding to the needs of storm victims, especially in preparing meals," Gann said. "The churches in Webster County, for example, have gotten together and are taking care of feeding the victims and volunteers in that area."
Task force chainsaw teams continue to work in several areas of the state, Gann said, with new requests being received regularly. Mississippi Baptist chaplains have been dispatched to the hardest-hit areas, he said.
Smithville in Monroe County was virtually destroyed by the first top-of-the-scale EF-5 tornado to strike Mississippi since the Candlestick Park tornado in south Jackson in 1966. The community of Wren, also in Monroe County, suffered major damage. In addition, Gann said an area of south Lafayette County along County Road 442 sustained major damage.
Varying degrees of damage were recorded in other areas of the state, almost too numerous to list, Gann said.
Central Hills Retreat, Mississippi Baptists' Royal Ambassadors campground, was struck by a tornado for the second time this year during the latest round of severe weather, camp manager Jim Ray reported. The first tornado touched down a few minutes into New Year's Day and caused major damage. The second tornado felled some timber and caused minor damage to other areas of the camp but will not affect any previously scheduled activities, Ray said.
"Once we were able to survey the camp after the second tornado, it was obvious to us that it won't have any effect on the schedule. Everything at Central Hills Retreat will go on as planned," Ray said.
William H. Perkins Jr. is editor of The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Donations to assist the victims of the violent weather in Mississippi may be submitted in the form of checks payable to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board with "Mississippi disaster relief" noted on the memo line. Checks should be mailed to Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. For more information regarding the relief effort, contact the Mississippi Baptist men's ministry department at 1-800-748-1651, ext. 334, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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