In an SBDR partnership involving the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention and Liberty University, 250-plus Liberty students will serve in the Binghamton, N.Y., area cleaning homes flooded by hurricane-driven rains, with more than 50 others to be deployed to Montpelier, Vt.
North American Mission Board disaster relief coordinator Bruce Poss said 2,600-plus homes in the Binghamton area alone have been damaged by flooding. The goal is for students to complete 260 jobs, a full 10 percent of the need.
"When we first discussed involving the students we thought we would have a good response with 50 or so interested," said David Wheeler, associate director of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School and a national missionary for NAMB. "When word got out it shot across campus."
First 100 registered. Then 200 and 300, the maximum number of students who could fit into the DeMoss Hall classroom set to host the three-hour training. And the students kept coming. Wheeler estimates 325 students came to the standing-room-only disaster relief training Wednesday night, Sept. 21.
"We were expecting 125 for the training, maybe 200 tops," SBCV disaster relief director Mark Gauthier said. "The response was overwhelming. We presented an orientation and introduction to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and then we provided the complete training for mud-out.
"They are ready to work in homes. The students' response demonstrates their passion to serve and share the Gospel. They want to help," Gauthier said.
"It's just been an amazing thing," Wheeler said. "I am blown away by this turnout, to say the least."
The Liberty initiative may serve as a model for future response to disasters across the country. "I felt that we needed to get some younger folks involved in disaster relief," Wheeler said. "I'd love to send teams out on a regular basis to help them build houses and all those kind of things."
"We hope this is just the beginning," said Mike Flannery, disaster relief director for the Baptist Convention of New York, of the two-week assistance the students will provide during late September and into early October.
Gauthier, Wheeler and the first group of 108 Liberty students departed the campus at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the rain to travel 450 miles aboard three buses to Davis College in Johnson City, N.Y., near Binghamton. They will work under the direction of SBDR incident commander Ed Greene of New Mexico.
Students like Hannah Kearney will work from Saturday through Tuesday with experienced volunteers from Florida, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Virginia. The mission will repeat with a second set of 160 students who will work in Tiago and Broome counties and 50 more in Vermont.
"I think we realize how much we have to be thankful for and that's why we just want to serve others," Kearney, a Liberty University sophomore, said at the training.
Liberty junior Karin Thompson, making her first volunteer trip for disaster relief, said she doesn't quite know what to expect when she gets to Binghamton. But she can't wait to start serving. "I've always had a passion for sharing Christ with those who need to hear about Him and haven't heard. I think it's a great opportunity."
"When we were contacted by Southern Baptists to help our brothers and sisters in New York, we didn't blink an eye," said Johnnie Moore Jr., Liberty vice president for executive projects and campus pastor. "We immediately recruited hundreds of students, and this weekend we will dispatch them with all their passion and determination to make as much of a difference as quickly as possible."
Liberty students "will scrub walls, rebuild broken places and serve with the vision that even this devastated community can come alive again," Moore said.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president and chancellor of Liberty University, noted, "When I saw the huge turnout of Liberty students in response to SBCV's call for student volunteers to help flood victims in the Northeast, it was heartwarming but not surprising.... Our students don't just profess their Christianity, they live it. They make me proud to serve Liberty and are the best evidence that Liberty is fulfilling its mission of training champions for Christ."
"Every time a disaster occurs," NAMB President Kevin Ezell said, "we hear from many Southern Baptists who want to help -- including many college students. Some tasks can only be carried out by trained and certified disaster relief volunteers, but we are adding roles that others can fulfill after a brief training course.
"The thought of 300 Liberty University students mobilized to help the people of New York is encouraging," Ezell said. We're glad to have the opportunity to give help and hope to those in need. I'm grateful for the partnership with SBCV and Liberty University."
NAMB provided masks, boots, gloves and Tyvek suits for the students to use. Volunteer SBDR drivers from Georgia hauled two trailers from Alpharetta to Binghamton with pressure washers, tools and supplies.
Bruce Poss and a team of SBDR volunteers and NAMB staff provide coordination for continuing disaster relief ministry across the country, including the Liberty University mobilization. One long-term response is preparing for a weather-mandated pause.
Operations in Minot, N.D., will conclude in late September before the onset of winter. Incident commander Ira Shelton of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, said the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists' mobile kitchen will depart this weekend. The majority of the convention feeding team will remain and prepare meals in a church kitchen until operations cease. Shelton said all priority one mud-out jobs have been completed in Minot, although more work will be done in the spring. Teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the California Southern Baptist Convention will work until the end of September.
The work is taking between 20 to 70 hours per house, depending on the amount of damage, Koch said. Additional volunteers from Canada, Louisiana, Kentucky and South Carolina are on their way to Vermont, Koch said. And relief/recovery work continues in Iowa, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
There is so much clean-up and "ash-out" work in Texas that volunteer teams are on their way from California and the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention to help the hundreds of Texans already ministering. The SBTC and Texas Baptist Men volunteers continue to work together in Bastrop.
"Bastrop is by far the largest response," said Jim Richardson, SBTC disaster relief director. "We are requesting two out-of-state units a week beginning on Monday." Richardson said more than 100 ministry sites already have been identified in Bastrop alone. Volunteers will be housed at First Baptist Church in Bastrop. Other Texas ash out-work is ongoing in Atlanta, Spicewood and Magnolia.
Donations to the disaster response efforts by various state Baptist conventions can be made by contacting their respective offices. To donate to NAMB's disaster relief fund, go to www.namb.net and click the "donate now" button; call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262); or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Donations can also be sent via texting "NAMBDR" to the number "40579." A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller's mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.
Joe Conway is a writer for the North American Mission Board, with additional reporting by Susan Peugh. Brandon Pickett is director of media services with the SBC of Virginia.
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