ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The North American Mission Board is sending $950,000 to Baptist conventions in seven states hard-hit by tornadoes and storms this spring.
The funds have been distributed based on a formula prioritizing the states' needs, NAMB President Kevin Ezell has announced.
The amount of funds by state follows: Alabama, $494,000 (52 percent of the $950,000); Missouri and Tennessee, $114,000 each (12 percent each); Mississippi, $66,500 (7 percent); Arkansas and Oklahoma, $57,000 each (6 percent each); and Georgia, $47,500 (5 percent).
“We are disbursing all the funds we received for spring storm relief,” Ezell said. “We are grateful to Southern Baptists for their generosity and want them to know the money is going where it is most needed.” Funds received after the current distribution will go to North Dakota for flood relief, Ezell added.
Through July 8, 1,719 donors had made 1,940 gifts totaling nearly $1 million to support the disaster relief efforts of the North American Mission Board and the state conventions, reported Carlos Ferrer, NAMB vice president and chief financial officer. This amount is in addition to monies Southern Baptists gave directly to state convention disaster relief funds.
“It's been an expensive year for disaster relief,” said Mickey Caison, NAMB's disaster relief coordinator, “and we haven't begun to get money for our upcoming North Dakota flood response yet.”
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief currently is gearing up for a major response in Minot, N.D., where flooding of the local Souris River has impacted 4,000 homes, requiring extensive mud-out work.
Even with this year far from over and in the midst of the annual hurricane season that does not end until Nov. 30, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in 2011 will be remembered as the year of deadly tornadoes, historic flooding, an unusual number of state wildfires, earthquakes and even a tsunami.
Except for 2005 — the year of Hurricane Katrina — SBDR staff and volunteers have seldom been so taxed and spread so thin.
“We've had a lot of states involved in a lot of responses,” Caison said, adding that he thinks the SBDR network is continually gaining strength.
“Even though we've been stretched thin and involved in so many different states, our state leaders and volunteers continue to step up in ministry,” Caison said. “We've had the diversity of disasters in past years but not the diversity of disasters spread across so many states.”
Yet, 2011 will go down as another successful year not just because of the thousands of SBDR volunteers who have worked across the United States and Canada, and not because of the 412,000 meals prepared, the 28,000 “volunteer days” served or the 4,000 mud-out and chainsaw jobs completed.
Its success also will be measured in the 100-plus people who were led to Christ and 22,000 Gospel presentations, ministry contacts and chaplaincy contacts made during the first seven months of the year.
While the predicted effects on the West Coast of the tsunami from the 9.0 earthquake in Japan on March 11 turned out to be a false alarm, the same could not be said of the killer tornadoes that struck the South during two different weeks in April.
On April 15-16, more than 50 people died across 14 states — from Oklahoma to Virginia — by an onslaught of some 250 tornadoes. In North Carolina alone, 21 people died when a reported 60 tornadoes struck on April 16. In response, 1,500 North Carolina SBDR volunteers were mobilized for feeding and chainsaw work, reported Richard Brunson, director of Baptist Men for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
On that same weekend in Alabama, an estimated 40 tornadoes tore through that state, including an EF-3 tornado that destroyed the sanctuary of Boone's Chapel Baptist Church near Prattville, Ala., and killed three family members who lived about 200 yards from the church in a mobile home.
But the outbreak was merely a foretaste of what was to come on April 27 when some 300 people were killed in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas by an even deadlier spate of tornadoes. More than 249 were killed in Alabama alone when a mile-wide tornado plowed 200 miles northeast from Tuscaloosa up to Fort Payne and over into Ringgold, Ga. Dozens of Southern Baptist churches were destroyed or damaged.
In the two weeks following the April 27 tornadoes in Alabama, SBDR mobilized nearly 5,900 trained volunteers from 10 state conventions, including 200-plus SBC chaplains who fanned out across the state to help tornado victims cope with the stress brought on by grief over lost loved ones and massive property damage.
The chaplains — many of them CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) chaplains — not only comforted the tornado victims, but also first-responders affected by the death and devastation, said Mel Johnson, state disaster relief director for the Alabama State Board of Missions.
State conventions responding in the aftermath of the historic Alabama tornadoes included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.
Rick Lance, executive director and state missionary of the Alabama State Board of Missions, called the tornadoes “our Katrina.” NAMB's Caison called it the “storm you never want to see.” Initially, the Weather Channel dubbed the April 27 tornadoes as the “deadliest tornado outbreak since 1974” but as the body count climbed, that would later be revised to “the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1932.”
With DR response activity still under way in Alabama and the South, 2011's tornado list expanded to Joplin, Mo., a city of 50,000 where at least 159 people were killed by an EF-5 tornado on May 25. As in Tuscaloosa, Ala., U.S. President Barack Obama and NAMB's Ezell were among the officials who traveled to Joplin to survey the damage and encourage victims and survivors.
In Joplin, the tornado literally hit home for one SBDR volunteer, Gary Hunley, who lost his own home to the storm. Yet he continued to work in SBDR as one of the Missouri Baptist Convention's “Blue Hat” leaders.
“You just don't know where to start,” Hunley said as he and his wife Twyla sifted through what was left of their belongings. “You don't want to let people help you because you think other people need it more. Then you realize you do need the help.
“Southern Baptists have been a true blessing to me,” said Hunley, who was honored with his wife Twyla by a standing ovation by the 5,000 messengers and attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix in June. “They have helped me grow in my faith,” Hunley said of fellow Baptists. “When you face something like this, you need to have your life in order. You never know how long you have,” he said.
In the wake of the Joplin tornado, some 400 SBDR volunteers from Missouri, Kansas/Nebraska and Oklahoma prepared more than 18,000 meals; chaplains made 4,000 visits and contacts; 400 chainsaw jobs were completed; 134 children were cared for; and nearly 900 showers and laundry loads were provided.
“We just appreciate the prayers and financial support and all the teams who volunteered,” said Rick Seaton, the Missouri Baptist Convention's director of men's missions and ministry. “It was a tremendous response and a big operation. It went well because of the 400 volunteers who made it happen.”
After the state disaster relief teams' deployment ended in storm-ravaged Alabama and Missouri, other state teams were deployed to Brimfield, Mass., and Williston, Vt., where three tornadoes ripped the region June 1, killing four and impacting 19 communities. Some 30 SBDR volunteers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Maine and NAMB were deployed to Massachusetts. Working from of an incident command post set up at Friendship Baptist Church in Brimfield, they included SBDR recovery, feeding, assessment, chaplaincy and shower units.
SBDR teams also have responded to heavy flooding in Vermont, Kentucky, Ohio, Montana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Iowa and Wyoming – along with a rash of wildfires, which have plagued Texas, Arizona, Kansas/Nebraska, Florida and Silver Lake, Alberta, Canada, with the latest fire in New Mexico.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist response to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which run state disaster relief programs.
SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for operations in feeding, chainsaws, mud-out, command, communications, child care, showers, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is the largest mobilizer of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
On the international front, SBDR continues to support ongoing responses in earthquake-ravaged Haiti and Japan, Caison noted.
With the Florida Baptist Convention and the Baptist Global Response (BGR) relief organization leading the effort, Southern Baptists have built 2,000 new concrete block houses in Haiti at a cost of about $2,500 each. Using concrete blocks, wood and tin purchased in Haiti — as well as local Haitian labor — Caison said at least 1,000 more homes are in the works.
In Japan, SBDR is partnering with the International Mission Board, the Japan Baptist Convention, Tokyo Baptist Church and BGR to provide training as well as recovery and clean-up assistance following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country's northeastern area.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.