Prepared for the worst

Disaster Relief training equips church members for hands-on gospel ministry

FLOWER MOUND—Seventy-five volunteers representing 20 churches across Texas gathered at RockPointe Church in Flower Mound, April 11, to learn from disaster relief veterans at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s (SBTC) Phase I Disaster Relief day-long training. They left as fully certified DR volunteers or “yellow hats.”

“Expect to share your faith when you deploy,” SBTC Director of Disaster Relief Scottie Stice told the assembled crowd in the afternoon as he reviewed biblical foundations, philosophies, policies and procedures. 

“We need you to deploy,” Stice continued, noting that the SBTC has DR funds, trailers and trained volunteers but needs workers to be available when disaster hits. “Tornado, hurricane, terrorist attack—when things are disrupted, we get ready.”

When disaster strikes and assistance is requested by local or government agencies or Baptist entities like the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, the SBTC’s DR team jumps into action. Task force directors mobilize volunteer networks and deployments take shape. 

Stice urges churches and individuals to contact SBTC DR when they hear of disasters in their areas. 

“Seven hundred homes flooded in Eagle Pass, but this did not make the Dallas news,” Stice said. 

While no major, longterm DR deployments have happened since May 2014, one-day deployments are not uncommon, Stice noted. In longer disasters, volunteer teams generally serve for a week, relieved by other teams that rotate in.

While DR volunteers usually use vacation or personal time to deploy, Stice urges them, “Do not put your job in jeopardy.”

In the field, teams follow strict leadership protocols. Looking across a DR unit, this leadership structure is visibly seen by the colored caps worn by volunteers. The “white hat” is the overall incident leader while “blue hats” are team leaders. Both of these groups have undergone advanced leadership training. Team members—“yellow hats”—adhere to this chain of command to ensure order and safety. 

During the April training, Stice allayed the group’s concerns regarding preparedness. 

“Veterans always go with new volunteers on deployments,” he explained, noting that among the most important assets of a DR volunteer is “a willing and cooperative spirit.”

Besides willing spirits, DR volunteers need steel-toed rubber boots, work gloves, sleeping bags, cots, blankets, pillows, tetanus shots, other immunizations and DR certification. Volunteers asked to use personal vehicles are reimbursed for mileage or gasoline, and volunteers traveling to DR sites are reimbursed for reasonable meal and lodging expenses. Quoting retired SBTC DR director
Jim Richardson, Stice added, “We want you to eat like royalty: Burger King, Dairy Queen.”

Safety is paramount for DR volunteers, Stice said, humorously recalling the time a DR group leader called him with an unexpected question, “Did you know that a power washer will cut a rattlesnake in half?” 

SBTC DR task forces include volunteers trained in clean up and recovery, feeding, chaplaincy, operations, communications, child care, water purification, and showers and laundry service. The Phase I morning training featured task force representatives providing instruction in the basics of these areas, and the afternoon’s general session introduced them to overviews of all DR areas. 

Clean Up & Recovery

One-third of Saturday’s Phase I trainees participated in the clean up and recovery training session led by Monte Furrh, who shared DR “war stories” while outlining procedures and safety issues. Recalling an episode in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Furrh told trainees that when his SBTC clean up and recovery team pulled into a New York neighborhood to help, they were greeted with questions of “How much is this going to cost?”

“Nothing. Jesus Christ paid for it,” Furrh replied to the astonished homeowners.

Clean up and recovery in areas damaged by storms may involve removing mud from flooded homes; removing damaged sheetrock up to the water line; treating affected areas with an anti-mold solution; and removing cabinets, fixtures, flooring and even bathtubs. DR volunteers also remove damaged furniture and appliances. 

“The homeowner is always the boss,” Furrh emphasized. “If the homeowners say not to remove that sheetrock or those cabinets, we don’t. We explain the hazards, but they make the final decision.”

Clean up and recovery units may also involve chainsaw work, but Furrh said, “You will not cut down a tree with the SBTC unless you go through training,” adding that safety is paramount and SBTC chainsaw training is second to none. 

Opportunities to Serve

Shawn Kemp, pastor of Van Alstyne’s The Crossroads Community Church, and his wife, LaRissa, brought a group of 13 to the training. 

“We had the opportunity to come and get trained so that we could deploy with DR and follow Jesus’ lead in ministering to people who are hurting,” LaRissa Kemp said.

“My husband and I helped out with disaster relief at a small church where we were before. We just like to serve and help and pick up people when they are down,” said Talana Foley of Crossroads, echoing Kemp’s sentiments. 

Another woman from Crossroads, Janet said she liked the fact that DR ministry allowed her to serve even though she likes to “stay in the background.”

Not Just Physical Work

While much of the visible ministry of DR teams involves physical labor, volunteers never forget the spiritual aspect of their work. For this reason, SBTC deploys trained chaplains are deployed with all SBTC teams during disasters. 

“Ours is a ministry of presence,” Gordon Knight, SBTC director of chaplains, told trainees. “The main purpose of our training is to give people hope.” Giving people hope in the Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate aim of SBTC DR. 

Rich fellowship also occurs among DR team members during deployments, Stice said. 

“Some of the best fellowship you will ever experience” may well happen on a DR deployment, Stice told volunteers, describing how DR teams gather in the evenings to debrief, pray and share what has happened in the field each day.

Spiritual preparation is as important as physical and emotional preparation for DR volunteers, Stice said. “Poverty and disaster go hand in hand sometimes. It hurts,” he stated, calling volunteers to be people of prayer and Bible study.

SBTC DR teams use the tract “Hope in Crisis,” based upon the book of Job, to share the gospel. 

Prepared to Go

When the SBTC is asked to deploy and the alert level changes to “standby,” teams are prepared to go within 24 hours. Many times, SBTC teams arrive in a disaster area before any other relief agencies or emergency service personnel. 

Despite a solid core of volunteers ready to go at a moment’s notice, there is always room for more. Churches wishing to know more about DR training or outfitting DR trailers should contact the SBTC for further information.

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