Home beckons for disaster relief units
By Brian Koonce
February 21, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – After 159 days, 5,746 hot showers, thousands of downed trees and more than 1,000,000 hot meals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina battering the Gulf Coast, all of the Missouri Baptist disaster relief units are finally home.
“I want to thank you all for your support – physically, financially and for your prayers,” said Gary Morrow, state coordinator of Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief. “You, as volunteers, are what have made the Missouri unit so great.”
To catalog all the ways Missouri Baptists reached out to Katrina victims would be virtually impossible. The Marshall-based feeding unit, the last Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) kitchen in service, packed up their kettles Feb. 4, just a few meals shy of 900,000 in Algiers, La., a community just north of New Orleans. The Jefferson Baptist Association shower unit, which has been providing hot showers and handling loads of laundry for Red Cross and other relief workers, shipped out to Algiers on the last day of August last year, even before the storm was over. Chainsaw crews from Springfield, Poplar Bluff and Marshall began clearing downed trees and removing debris as soon as the skies cleared.
Besides the various units that were dispatched to Louisiana and Mississippi, associational camps across the state were immediately opened and many were soon filled with evacuees. Dozens of churches adopted affected flocks and Missouri Baptists donated more than $500,000 to disaster relief in the first two months alone.
The MBC as a whole adopted the area of St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans, to help the churches get back on their feet. Southern Baptist churches in the area launched a series of simultaneous weekly worship services Feb. 12. Poydras Baptist Church is meeting in its fellowship hall, which was renovated with the help of Missouri Baptists, while four other churches are meeting together in the cafeteria of Chalmette High School.
Mud-out teams, chaplains and informal teams of untrained volunteers joined Southern Baptist disaster relief workers in what soon became the largest disaster relief and recovery effort in the history of Southern Baptist disaster relief. As the nation’s third-largest disaster relief organization, the SBC worked to bring together teams from across the country to prepare 14.5 million meals, perform 17,000 cleanup operations, contribute 165,000 days of labor and purify 22,000 gallons of water.
While the immediate goal of disaster relief is to provide physical help to victims, that does not mean that the opportunity to share Christ did not come up after Katrina.
Marshall Link, director of missions for Cane Creek Stoddard Baptist Association, said his association’s chainsaw unit was able to present the Gospel at each job site.
“Every time we go to a home, the owner asked, ‘What will it cost me to get the trees removed?’” Link said. “I would tell them, ‘It cost Jesus Christ everything and therefore, it will cost you nothing.’ This statement opens the door for a clear presentation of the Gospel.”
Though the mobile kitchens and showers are back home, the need for relief in Louisiana and Mississippi is not over. The North American Mission Board, which coordinates SBC disaster relief efforts, is still asking for volunteers. Teams are needed in New Orleans to do recovery work (tree removal, gutting and cleaning homes, installing temporary roofs, etc.).
The Incident Command Team has set up an office in the Algiers section of New Orleans next to Calvary Baptist Church, and this office will be handling registration of volunteer teams and job requests. Call (678) 386-1576 or 1-800-462-8657, ext. 6134, to help. Volunteers can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for further information and to make reservations. You must be 18 years or older to participate. The office is not set up to handle individual volunteers at this point—teams only, please.
And there won’t be much rest for the state’s equipment or leaders. Training on the use of a new shower unit will take place March 17-18 in Marshall. For more information, call Danny Decker at (573) 636-0400 or 1-800-736-6227, ext. 630.