JEFEFERSON CITY – The weather was calm, cool and clear, far from tornado weather. But that didn’t stop more than 200 Missouri Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers from churches across Missouri from converging on Jefferson City as if a Joplin-scale disaster had struck.
In the biggest DR operation since the 2011 tornado response, the army of “yellow hats” (volunteers) converged on Jefferson City May 3 and woke up early the next morning to begin working at 6:45.
“We’re better prepared for the next disaster that comes,” said Dwayne Carter, the state director for Disaster Relief.
It was as close to an actual disaster without being the real thing as it could be. Shower units set up their trailers while the mobile childcare unit was turned into an instant nursery facility. The communications unit kept everyone in sync. Meanwhile, mass care volunteers prepped hot meals for everyone involved, even though it was a far cry from their max cooking capacity during an actual disaster.
“Disaster planners” sought out homeowners in Jefferson City, California and Elston that might need trees removed, allowing real ministry to take place alongside the training. Twelve chainsaw units completed 30 jobs cutting down trees and those jobs led to 31 “ministry contacts” from chaplains embedded with the chainsaw crews.
In addition to giving each unit on-the-job training, Carter said the simulation had another benefit.
“It built a sense of unity among different units around the state too,” he said. “We have great people in each unit that are willing to do what it takes to be ready to minister when the time comes. I was impressed with how serious they took it. It was real to them.”
Adding to the sense of cooperation was the presence of two representatives from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), a logistic partner DR would work with on a large-scale disaster in Missouri.
John Yeats, executive director for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), was on hand May 4 to get a first person look at the MBC’s DR fleet.
“I’m impressed. These folks are the face and the hands of the gospel when there is a disaster,” he said. “The Disaster Relief volunteers I saw and spoke with were intentional about being prepared to help people facing a challenge. At the same time, they are better prepared with personal witnessing skills.”
Yeats personally saw the impact DR can have on communities during his time in hurricane-prone Louisiana, and he said it is an excellent picture of the Cooperative Program at work.
“From my experience, Disaster Relief volunteers are the folks that place their hands to the plow and get the job done. Some of the most effective teams in the cooperative Southern Baptist Convention family are right here in Missouri,” he said.
The drill gave Missouri a chance to work out of a new command center unit from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) that came from Georgia for the weekend. It is similar to one Missouri DR hopes to soon have in its fleet. It was accompanied by the NAMB vice president over DR, Fritz Wilson.
“He was really impressed with what Missouri had to offer,” Carter said. “And our people fell in love with the command center. It’s a great resource, one that would have been helpful as recently as the Hazelwood tornado a few weeks ago.”
As has become his constant refrain, Carter urged people to “pray, give and go.”
“Pray for Missouri DR, we’d love for you to give of your time and finances to support DR, and we’d love for you to go on a call out when disaster comes,” Carter said.
In order to “go,” volunteers need to be trained. The next training event is at First Baptist Church in Dexter, Oct. 18-19.
Carter said he would like to host another large-scale simulation in the future, though he didn’t know if it would happen next year or in two years.