JOPLIN – In November, Forest Park Baptist Church here was a collection center for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoe boxes. Today, Forest Park is serving as the staging center for Samaritan’s Purse (SP) tornado relief for the area.
Della Bergen, OCC collection center coordinator, attends Forest Park. Since OCC is a division of Samaritan’s Purse, she was the natural point person for Samaritan’s Purse to call.
“Luther Harrison, director of North American projects for Samaritan’s Purse, called,” Bergen said, “and asked if our church would be available to set up headquarters.”
According to Bergen, many times the American Red Cross uses the church as a base. But immediately after the tornado, the church was without power, so the Red Cross set up at Missouri Southern State University. Samaritan’s Purse has been able to use the church as a center for volunteers by providing room and board.
When Samaritan’s Purse first arrived, Bergen was responsible for processing work orders to assign volunteers in the various areas.
“I talked to the people to see what was needed,” she said. “They would ask for tarps, boarded-up windows, debris removal, contents recovery and various other jobs. We would pray with them and assign volunteers.”
Now, in addition to being the liaison between Samaritan’s Purse staff and the church, Bergen has become the coordinator for the volunteers. She orders t-shirts and bandanas for the volunteers, gets them to orientation and keeps track of where they all are.
“The number of volunteers is awesome,” she said. “Samaritan’s Purse is amazed at our numbers. We are running 250-300 volunteers a day. It has been miraculous the way the church and our pastor, John Swadley, have been able to facilitate all of this in the middle of the devastation.”
Bergen is also delighted to be working with Samaritan’s Purse because of the spiritual emphasis.
“Every SP volunteer team signs a Bible at the work location,” she said, “and they present it to the property owner. They also pray with them. It is important to make these connections and to let them know God loves them.”
Another aspect of Samaritan’s Purse that Bergen appreciates is their organization.
“Samaritan’s Purse trains their volunteers each day,” she said. “They know and follow the FEMA regulations which make the cleanup more effective for the victims. SP volunteers are the trained hands and feet serving the Lord.”
Each day, Samaritan’s Purse conducts an orientation for the new volunteers. They discuss the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rules and the safety of using heavy machines. In addition, they discuss the ethical code of working for the organization. Each volunteer is issued a t-shirt and bandana which helps victims recognize them, letting them know that they can be trusted.
“We also issue bands of various colors to the youth groups volunteering to help,” Bergen said. “Certain areas of the disaster are off limits to young people because we don’t want them to see anything that they shouldn’t. When FEMA sees the bands, they know exactly how old the group is by the color.”
One of the most difficult days of serving for Bergen was the day of the memorial service with Gov. Jay Nixon and President Barack Obama.
“I trained six volunteers to go with me to take work orders from the people at the service,” she said. “Governor Nixon had all the groups providing assistance set up for victims to find the help they needed. When people come to the church for help, they walk in. But here many were in wheelchairs. They had swollen faces and other lacerations from the storm. It was difficult for me.”
Bergen is surprised every day that God has her serving in this coordinating position.
“I’m amazed every day that I’m doing this for Him because I was just packing shoe boxes,” she said.
VICKI STAMPS/contributing writer