Disasters have their own schedules, striking anytime, anywhere, anyone. Recognizing the history of hurricanes along the Texas Gulf Coast as a continuing pattern, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention leadership prepared for future calamities by tapping in 2002 Gibbie McMillan as missions services associate to develop, among other assignments, a disaster response system and volunteer network.
Disaster relief for the SBTC was born.
The foundation laid by McMillan is now a full-fledged structure under the leadership of Jim Richardson, who succeeded McMillan in 2006 as the SBTC’s first-ever Disaster Relief ministry associate.
“What we tried to do when I got here,” McMillan said, “was to serve churches interested in disaster relief, and to discover the areas of greatest need. So we developed a disaster relief program that included chaplaincy and construction teams we called Baptist Builders.”
McMillan soon began organizing chainsaw crews, and their popularity and success was not long in coming as several deployed to Florida in September of 2004, responding to Hurricane Charley’s devastation.
After careful research and thoughtful dialogue, the SBTC and Texas Baptist Men, a longstanding disaster ministry, entered into a relationship in 2003 intended to bolster the capabilities of both ministries, McMillan said.
By the time Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, SBTC Disaster Relief was up and running. An army of SBTC volunteers, many of them rookie DR workers, prepared and served more than 300,000 meals in Louisiana in the week after the storm hit. Chainsaw crews were there, too, along with mud-out workers. In all, nearly 1.1 million meals were served to survivors, rescue workers, soldiers and police at shelters, food stamp lines, neighborhoods and military posts from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
During the three weeks of Hurricane Katrina-related ministry, dozens of salvations were recorded, hundreds of gospel tracts and Bibles were distributed and thousands of prayers were offered for victims by SBTC volunteers.
The experience of SBTC DR workers in Louisiana proved invaluable as training for their response to Hurricane Ike three years later. In less than a month after that storm, the SBTC-led disaster relief kitchen had served more than a half-million meals on Galveston Island.
Upon his departure in 2006, McMillan had formed an agreement that allowed SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers to operate one of the Salvation Army’s feeding units. He also garnered the SBTC’s first water purification unit; “even though it was only as big as a suitcase?it was cutting-edge, then,” he said. The water purification unit was part of the equipment McMillan had begun to acquire for SBTC DR efforts.
As part of the SBTC’s DR program, McMillan coordinated chaplaincy ministry in cooperation with the North American Mission Board.
He said the most significant part of his ministry was when he trained 32,000 people for mass-feeding so they’d be qualified to serve Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Meeting at Second Baptist, Houston, the project “took three days. We had Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists, and more. It wasn’t easy, but we got the job done,” he said.
When McMillan accepted a position with the Louisiana Baptist Convention in 2006, Richardson came on board, having previously served the Georgia Baptist Convention in disaster relief.
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