While national attention has moved away from the devastation caused by the strongest storm to hit Florida in the past decade, Southern Baptists report that volunteers are continuing to make their way to Florida to bring relief and hope to hundreds of thousands.
“Southern Baptists have prepared over 350,000 meals in the last 11 days,” said Sandy Lenahan, who coordinates the national mobilization center located at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) building north of Atlanta. “We have more than 1,300 volunteers manning more than 130 units from 23 state Baptist conventions, and more are on the way.”
According to the Baptist Press, Southern Baptists are the third largest disaster relief agency in the country with more than 28,000 trained volunteers ready to respond to local, state and national emergencies, behind the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
Last week, Mickey Caison, manager of NAMB’s Disaster Operations Center, said nearly 100 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units activated in southwest Florida could climb to as many as 175 over the next several weeks and months.
“Though the national media interest will begin to wane, our operations are escalating. As we mobilize more Southern Baptist disaster volunteers into Florida, we need to pray for traveling mercies, for protection as they work and for discernment as they meet and minister to victims,” said Jim Burton, director of the NAMB’s volunteer mobilization team.
Burton emphasized that Southern Baptists are committed long-term to helping Floridians whose lives have been ripped apart by Hurricane Charley rebuild their futures on a firm foundation.
“As devastating as Hurricane Charley was to Florida, it's bringing out the best in Southern Baptists,” Burton said.
Randy Powell, who was among the volunteers who used vacation time to serve those affected by the hurricane, told BP, “When I saw on the news that a strong storm was coming into Florida, I told my boss that as soon as I was called, I would let him know that I was taking my vacation to come down here and help out.”
Powell added, “Just seeing the glow on the faces of people when somebody they don’t know comes to help them is reward enough.
Bill Haynes, another volunteer who also “banks” at least a week of vacation to serve in the Greer Baptist Association’s kitchen unit, commented, “We are feeding hungry people physical food and spiritual food. When we have a chance, we always tell them about Jesus.”
Haynes explained another benefit is spiritiual growth of the volunteers.
“We’re often behind the scenes preparing the meals that others take out to victims,” Haynes said, “so sometimes we don’t have much contact with them. But it’s a huge blessing to see our team members grow in service to the Lord.”
David Wallace, a volunteer from North Carolina, commented, “Meeting the people is the best part of disaster relief. Everybody I meet is a blessing tome. The Lord has been good to me, so I try to pass it on to someone else.
“We witness to people, have prayer with them as we work on their houses and property, and present ourselves in a Christian manner.”
Deb Day, a South Carolina volunteer, also felt she was receiving blessings from her service. “I came to Florida because Christ is so good to me and people need our help,” she said. “The greatest blessing for me is sharing Christ’s love with people.”
According to Southern Baptists officials, the Florida response will be long-term. “We won’t wrap this up anytime soon,” said Burton. “This one will be a marathon.”
In the meantime, coordinators of the national response are calling on churches to pray fervently for the victims and volunteers dealing with the storm’s aftermath across southwest Florida.