JEFFERSON CITY – The word “missionary” typically conjures up images of a church planter, tattered Bible in hand, plodding through the jungle to bring the Gospel to some unreached people group. But there are 1,743 vetted and trained volunteer missionaries in yellow shirts working in Missouri who are equally at home toting a chainsaw or prepping tens of thousands of hot meals.
Few ministries show Missouri Baptists’ cooperation at work like Disaster Relief. The Cooperative Program (CP) funds the director and certain administrative costs, but the bulk of ministry comes from gifts through the Missouri Missions Offering (MMO). Equipment, trailers, supplies, maintenance and the summer collegiate intern program are all funded through local churches’ gifts through MMO. A typical callout canvasses available volunteers from churches and associations from Neosho to Kahoka, and Tarkio to Caruthersville who pay their own way to bring help, hope and healing to victims of flooding, tornadoes, ice storms, wildfires, even terrorist attacks and civil unrest. Last year, they worked in the freezing rain and blazing sun in Missouri, Louisiana, Texas and North Carolina.
Even as men and and women are sawing away at downed trees, cooking beans by the gallon, or stripping moldy sheet rock from a flooded basement, these missionaries bring along trained DR chaplains who focus on the spiritual and emotional needs of a homeowner.
Joe Banderman, who oversees the collegiate disaster relief unit, said he has seen the Missouri Missions Offering change lives through Disaster Relief.
“The heart of CP and MMO is developing disciples and leaders,” he said. “It’s not just ‘one of those offerings.’ This is for ministries that don’t fit fully in the doors of the church. In a disaster, when everyone else is driving out, we’re driving in; we’re all together in Jesus’s name asking ‘How can we help you?’ Without MMO, we couldn’t do that.”
Banderman and several college students were among 40 Missouri DR volunteers who responded last October to devastating floods on the East coast after Hurricane Matthew. During that disaster alone, 12 people accepted Christ due to Missouri’s volunteers answering the call.
But DR changes the lives of the servant’s as well, not just those being served. The summer collegiate DR internship program has had a profound effect on students who give up their summer to join the DR ranks.
“We teach you some of the basic skills like how to hang drywall or set up a mass feeding unit, but they grow in other ways too,” Banderman said. I think of (collegiate intern) Mary Parsons, who has gone on 21 Disaster Relief callouts and is now a blue hat (unit leader) in child care. Edwin (Jiminez) was also with us for summer, told us that if he goes back home to the Dominican Republic, I have a connection on that island and can minister because of Disaster Relief.
“Every summer I get new students, and I can’t wait to see what God has ready for this summer,” he said. “You never know who this money is going to touch.”