By Bill Webb
When disaster strikes, Southern Baptist disaster relief stands ready to respond. Hurricane activity in Florida and up the East Coast prompted state and North American Mission Board units to be ready to roll and - as this column is being written - several are either at the scene of disaster or on the way.
By now, the Missouri Baptist unit may have been dispatched, too. However, at press time, they remained on standby, possibly for response as an additional storm develops. Even so, 20 volunteers remained poised for the call.
Few activities do more for the reputation and good will of a Christian organization than reaching out to meet devastating needs. Food preparation and delivery both to people whose lives have been disrupted and those who work around the clock to minister to them are welcome ministries. Not many years ago, that described most of what Southern Baptist disaster relief ministries involved.
But people motivated to reach out in crisis situations become creative. They seek out ways to engage more volunteers and make a stronger impact on helping people in Christ's name.
Today, yellow-jacketed chainsaw crews are dispatched to turn blown-down trees into firewood or to at least prepare them for orderly removal from a victim's yard.
These days, disaster relief volunteers help clean out homes that have been underwater and have mud covering floors, walls and furniture. They sanitize as they clean to inhibit the growth of stuff which could later harm the health of inhabitants.
During the weeks following the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, many such volunteers cleaned dust and debris out of nearby apartments to make them suitable for habitation again.
One of the most appreciated ministries is childcare for families working through the process of reclaiming their lives in the wake of something like Hurricane Charley. Children find opportunities to be cared for and to play - to be children - even in the midst of events they find disconcerting and fearful. What parent would not appreciate people helping shelter their precious youngsters from some of the realities of displacement, loss of possessions and even loss of life.
The opportunity to provide eternal answers comes rather naturally in settings like these. People naturally ask, "Why?" And they get simple answers from regular ol' Baptist people. "We are here because God loves you and we love you, too." "We're doing what we do because we care when people find themselves in overwhelming circumstances." "We enjoy ministering in the name of Christ."
Those are testimonies wrapped in obvious care and concern. Many volunteers use vacation time to go get their hands dirty, and most of the ones I have observed find joy in going about their assigned task on a disaster relief operation.
Some people find relief in warm smiles, others in a simple touch. Others just need to talk with someone who can spend a few minutes to hear their particular story. All those responses have a Jesus feel to them. He, after all, accomplished so much in so little time with a warm greeting, a gentle touch and the time to listen to a person's innermost yearnings.
Not everyone is able to go, but any person can undergird those who do. To assist during the current crisis, send checks to any of the following:
-- Hurricane Charley Relief, Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207.
-- Make checks payable to North American Mission Board and mail to: NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.
-- Send checks to Missouri Disaster Relief in care of the Missouri Baptist Convention, 400 E. High St., Jefferson City, MO 65101, and stipulate that it is for Florida.
Everyone can pray for victims of natural disasters and for the safety of those who assist them, whether as volunteers or because of their jobs.