A series of tornadoes north of Oklahoma City claimed at least 18 lives Friday (May 31), just 12 days after twisters killed 24 in nearby Moore. Flash flooding from the storms killed four in Arkansas.
Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, shared a story indicative of the critical spiritual support volunteers provide in the midst of meeting physical survival needs. In this instance, a chaplain and assessor perhaps prevented a suicide while visiting two women with storm damage.
As the assessor spoke with one woman, Porter explained, her neighbor told the chaplain, "I have to tell you something. I've been so overwhelmed by all that has happened here I was going to take my life today. But now I know God cares for me and people care."
The chaplain prayed with the woman as she placed her faith in Christ, Porter said.
Fritz Wilson, executive director for disaster relief at the North American Mission Board, said volunteers will go wherever there is a need.
"Southern Baptist volunteers continue to serve people who are hurting and in need," Wilson said. "One of NAMB's core values is 'whatever it takes.' That spirit is exemplified in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. Volunteers were scheduled to go to one location and changed at a moment's notice to respond to a new area of need."
Today (June 4) marks the 17th straight day of SBDR response in the Oklahoma City area, where volunteers have completed more than 400 cleanup and recovery jobs and have at least 200 requests outstanding.
Insurance estimates show that each cleanup job saves homeowners an average of $8,000, Porter said. Friday's tornadoes in Oklahoma City never churned into the ground and could have been much more destructive, Porter said, thanking Southern Baptists for their prayers.
Assessment teams were on their way to St. Louis Monday (June 3) where storms ran a parallel track some 40 miles long, according to Missouri Baptist Convention SBDR director Dwaine Carter. Southern Baptist volunteers are en route from Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee to aid Missouri SBDR volunteers, Porter said, expressing hopes to have teams serving by June 5. Twelve days of cleanup and recovery operations had just ended in Hannibal, Mo., when Friday's storms hit the St. Louis area.
NAMB dispatched a semi-truck loaded with requested supplies to St. Louis on Sunday, primarily plastic rolled roofing, furring strips and SBDR teddy bears. Another SBDR truck from NAMB is in route to deliver 52,000 new clothing items donated by retailers, which volunteers will distribute this weekend through Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, near Moore.
New opportunities like clothing distribution allow SBDR to partner with local churches in the affected area to bring help, healing and hope in new ways, Wilson said.
"SBDR would not exist without the strong network and partnership between the state conventions and national entities," said Wilson. "SBDR is the Cooperative Program lived out to its fullest."
Southern Hills Baptist Church is responding further by expanding its Vacation Bible School this week to minister to tornado victims. The church is offering free lunches and VBS activities until 6 p.m. for babies through eighth graders, the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger reported.
The church will offer free meals to VBS students' families each evening, and will sponsor a community-wide Family Fun Night June 5 from 5-7:30 p.m. in the church parking lot, with free food, rides, inflatables and games.
In other possible ministry opportunities, SBDR officials are monitoring wildfires in Arizona and California, Wilson said, along with potential flooding in Iowa and the Midwest.
While rivers were high in Iowa, flooding had remained minimal, said Ty Berry, Baptist Convention of Iowa SBDR director.
To help build awareness of SBDR, a television commercial began running in Oklahoma City markets over the weekend. View the ad at baptistrelief.org by clicking on the video frame marked 'media' at the lower right-hand side of the page.
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 and 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. Donate by phone at 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.
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