HOUSTON—Don’t let the combat-style boots fool you. Carma Hackett is no drill sergeant.
She helped establish and directed the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Disaster Relief childcare unit with the efficiency of a longtime business owner but the heart of a servant. And at the close of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention June 12 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, she handed over her baby to new leadership so she could devote more time to something more near and dear to her heart.
The 75-year-old retired construction company owner is newly married to Dennis Maywald. And after being single for 45 years she’d like to spend more time nurturing this newfound relationship without the interruption of disaster relief duty. That’s not to say she won’t again volunteer. She is open to God’s leading, she said, just as she was seven years ago when she moved from Arizona to Texas and stepped up to lead a program she had never heard of.
“For the last seven years I have not had to worry about childcare because I knew if Carma was there it would be done right,” SBTC Disaster Relief Director Jim Richardson said of Hackett.
Asked if Hackett was a trooper, Richardson answered no. “She’s a Ranger!”
“Jim gets the concept of childcare. He tells [DR volunteers], ‘I trust my grandchildren with yellow shirts,’” Hackett said of the SBTC DR volunteers and their ubiquitous yellow shirts and hats worn on duty. One duty unrelated to disaster relief is the presence of DR childcare volunteers at Baptist annual meetings, where they care for the young children of messengers.
On the last day of the SBC meeting she retired again and turned over responsibilities to Joe and Betty Dufner. Hackett recounted God’s leading in her life, telling how the work impacted her, the volunteers and the children and parents they served.
Just to make it abundantly clear, Hackett said at the outset, “This is not babysitting.”
For seven years Hackett has nurtured, coddled and directed the operation of the SBTC DR childcare unit. She said the ministry encompasses so much more than merely changing diapers and wiping noses and to describe it as “babysitting” is to miss the divine nature of what is accomplished with each deployment.
In 2005 the Arizona transplant had never even heard of disaster relief until her pastor, Larry Shine of Pine Forest Baptist Church in Onalaska, asked the congregation to pray that God would raise up a leader to lead the fledgling childcare unit.
Hackett committed to pray.
“One night I had a dream of a long line of people,” she recalled.
In that line was a woman. In her arms was a child. Clinging to her leg was another. A third youngster ran amongst the crowd.
“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. There’s got to be someone who can take care of that mom.’”
After a few days of praying Hackett said she confessed to her pastor she was the one God was calling.
God told her, “I’ve already trained you to do that.”
She was sent to Georgia for Phase I training. The 18-hour drive home was spent creating a checklist of all that would be needed to establish and effectively operate a disaster relief childcare center. Today the ministry boasts a mobile state-of-the-art childcare center that can be operational in two hours, caring for 80 children 5-years-old and younger.
The childcare units serve in the field following disasters and during the state and national conventions. At the recent SBC annual meeting, 115 volunteers from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio and Missouri cared for 136 children—many of them repeat attendees.
Hackett said, “When the children see the yellow shirts their faces light up. The Lord has so much more for us to do than change diapers.”
The childcare centers at the SBC and SBTC annual meetings allow both parents to participate in the events. Hackett said some of her workers are compelled to volunteer because, as pastors’ wives, they rarely had that opportunity when their children were young so they happily provide it to a new generation of parents.
In the field following a disaster, shell-shocked communities grieve for lives and homes lost, sift through rubble and file insurance or fill out government forms. All the while, children, with needs of their own, require care.
At every deployment and each convention there are “divine appointments.” The work of DR childcare volunteers influences the children and their parents and opens opportunities to share the gospel.
One example: Leticia, age 5, was displaced with her family after a tree fell on their Livingston home during Hurricane Ike in 2008. A local church opened its doors to those left homeless by the storm. Hackett recalled Leticia’s grandmother telling the girl how wonderful it was that God let them stay in one of his houses.
While grandma spent hours filling out forms and meeting with FEMA representatives, Leticia stayed with Hackett in the childcare unit.
Leticia knew enough about Jesus to ask Hackett some very profound questions. She asked Hackett if she knew Jesus. When Hackett said she did, the child asked, “Why did they hate him? Why did he have to die?”
As the girl colored pictures Hackett told her about the Lord. An occasional nod indicated she was still listening though focused on her artwork. When asked if she wanted Jesus to be her Lord, Leticia responded, “I’ll think about it.”
That afternoon the grandmother retrieved Leticia from the childcare center. The pair had only gone a short distance when the child broke free from her grandmother’s hand and ran back to Hackett. She knelt down to receive the child’s hug. The girl leaned in close and whispered in Hackett’s ear, “I’m still thinking about it.”
That, Hackett said, is why DR childcare is important.
“Do I think that girl will be saved? Absolutely!”
At the SBTC meeting last year in San Antonio, Hackett recalled one child crying as his younger siblings were checked in to the childcare center that he had outgrown.
“But they like me here,” he cried as his parents tried to console him.
Another child wailed when her parents arrived to take her home because she didn’t want to leave.
“What do you do back there?” one of the parents asked Hackett.
“We love on them,” she replied.
“What more could a kid want?” Hackett asked, pointing to the rooms where children played. “Back there is Toys-R-Us and Grandma and Grandpa are in charge.”