SBTC DR aids New Mexicans in fire disaster

RUIDOSO, N.M.—Texas Southern Baptists poured their hearts into the work of helping New Mexicans recover from a wildfire that raced across the state after a lightning strike in early June, deploying 44 volunteers over the course of a month and sharing their faith along the way.

As the Little Bear Fire escalated, it burned over 69 square miles, destroyed 242 homes, and cost an estimated $19 million to fight. Despite the disastrous result, several residents are experiencing new life in Christ amid the aftermath of clean-up and recovery.

After evacuation orders were issued in early June for area residents, New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief (NMBDR) teams responded first, establishing a feeding operation at Ruidoso High School and incident command at First Baptist Church of Ruidoso. They deployed a mobile communications trailer along with much-needed chaplains to console distraught residents.

After more than 150 jobs were registered with NMBDR, incident commander Ed Greene directed Southern Baptist volunteers from five states, tackling over 100 of those while Samaritan’s Purse volunteers dealt with the remaining third. SBTC provided the largest number of out-of-state volunteers.

Work will likely end in early August, although some volunteers will return to remove the dumpsters that were delayed.

“The biggest bottleneck in operations has been the inability to get dumpsters to a dump near Alamogordo,” Greene said, describing a round trip of about 150 miles. “We will continue to deploy crews with skid steers to clean up selected sites and fill the dumpsters.”

Most local residents were amazed at the kindness of strangers ministering to them over the course of a hot summer. After the devastating loss of his home, one man struggled with this new challenge by moving into an RV trailer on his charred property.

“He was very touched by the fact that people would come from so far away to help him and have no idea who he was,” recalled Suzy Scott, an experienced SBTC DR volunteer from Westside Baptist in Atlanta, Texas who drove 700 miles to reach the site. “We just told him it was because of the Lord that we were there.”

Westside member Kris Butler recalled meeting a young family that lost their home. “They were really moved emotionally and not even sure if they would rebuild.” The father went around to all of the Texans, taking down their names so he would remember them.

SBTC volunteers were eager to return the favor of serving after Southern Baptist DR volunteers from 11 state conventions deployed last year to Texas following the Bastrop area wildfires, providing 16,192 meals and cleaning up 415 sites. “It is our opportunity and privilege to share with our fellow state conventions in disaster relief ministry,” stated Jim Richardson, the SBTC’s DR director.

“We have the opportunity to assist our neighbors during their time of need as they come to our assistance when we have a need.”

The practical ministries of providing meals, showers, laundry and childcare ease the shock of wildfire devastation while the dirty job of clearing burned-out areas to facilitate rebuilding offers a ray of hope.

In the first two weeks of deployment, trained SBTC DR chaplains counseled 108 residents. At a time when emotions are raw, recipients of relief efforts often engage volunteers in spiritual conversations, allowing them to share the only real source of eternal hope.

A massive disaster like the 2011 Texas wildfires provided circumstances that led to 633 spiritually based encounters, 256 presentations of the gospel message, and 79 Texans professing faith in Jesus Christ. Local SBTC churches provided further ministry by following up on new converts and offering discipleship.

After the initial assessment of needs and provision of meals to evacuees of the Little Bear fire north of Ruidoso, the next phase of clean-up began in early July. Former Texan Alan Stoddard pastors First Baptist Church of Ruidoso, which served as the base of operations for volunteers from New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Baptist New Mexican Editor John Loudat reported that the multi-state relief effort had focused on destroyed home sites. Baptist Convention of New Mexico Executive Director Joe Bunce toured the area in mid-July, reporting that five people had professed faith in Jesus Christ in those first few weeks of ministry.

“We are grateful that you have been led and used by our Lord during our time of need,” shared Don and Pauline Romero in a note addressed to BCNM’s DR staff. “You have helped countless individuals to make this crisis somewhat more bearable,” he added. “The food and kind words of encouragement have not gone unnoticed. Bless you for being a blessing.”

Monte Furrh from Boyd Baptist Church in Bonham can’t even remember how many times he’s deployed on disaster relief efforts since his first trip to help days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. “Once you get to seeing it and the rewards of serving you’ve got to help.”

He remembers how the flames swirled and spun between the hills when he deployed to the Fort Davis area of far West Texas in April 2011. “The fire spread a hundred yards per second,” he recalled, hearing similar accounts of the rapid movement of the Little Bear Fire.

SBTC DR chaplain Sherry McDugle of Bois D’Arc Baptist in Palestine wept as she told of her new friendship with a policewoman struggling with not only the recent natural disaster but also the kind of human catastrophes in the lives of people she deals with through her work.

Encouraging the woman to put her faith in Jesus Christ, McDugle offered a green pine cone she had found to describe the new life available in Christ in sharing her own testimony. “We all got in a circle with her and sang ‘Amazing Grace’ as we held hands last night,” she said. After giving the woman a Bible inscribed with the names of Texas volunteers, they thanked God for the opportunity to “plant a seed in her life.”

“He’s just got to let it grow.”

A retired pilot took his loss in stride, standing near the ashes of his over 4,000-square foot house that took a year and a half to build and only three hours to burn. “You need to wake up at 4:30 after a fire and see the beautiful universe out there and realize how miniscule this is,” he said.

“There’s always a blessing in store and I believe the Lord has got a good plan for us. It’s already happening,” added the long-time Southern Baptist who moved to the area seven years ago from Spring, Texas. He praised the hard-working SBTC crew, noting that his wife plans to join New Mexico’s DR team after seeing the ministry first-hand. “These guys and women are so fantastic You don’t find this in the world. If this is not a witness, I don’t know what is.”

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