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Alabama 1 of 4 conventions helping to develop SBC collegiate disaster relief training programcomment (0)

June 7, 2012

By Gary Hardin

Alabama 1 of 4 conventions helping to develop SBC collegiate disaster relief training program

"Need help? Will travel” is often the motto of concerned college students when tragedy strikes. Proof of this mindset is the countless collegians that arrive at various weather-related disaster sites hoping to lend a helping hand.

In past years lack of proper disaster relief training has limited the amount of help the students could offer, but the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is working to remedy this dilemma. For Baptists in Alabama, California, Florida and Tennessee, this solution involves developing collegiate disaster relief training programs.

Initially Alabama was not included, but the state was added as a fourth participant in light of the 2011 tornado responses and requests made by state leaders.

“Work bodies” is the term Taylor Foxx uses to describe the new generation of collegiate disaster relief volunteers. 

Foxx, a communications major and leadership minor at Troy University, was among the nearly 150 Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) students who received basic disaster relief training at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega the weekend of April 20–21. He said the training he received explained what would be expected of collegiate volunteers in case of a disaster.

“I can now see myself ministering this way in the future,” he said, noting that his “yellow shirt” is tucked in a drawer and ready to wear in case he is called. A member of Gateway Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association, who attends Bush Memorial Baptist Church, Troy, in Salem-Troy Baptist Association, while at Troy, Foxx said, “I’ll serve wherever they need me to serve.”

Mike Nuss, director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) office of collegiate and student ministries, believes collegiate disaster relief training will give students the credentialing they need to be part of a disaster relief response team from their campus ministry group in the event of a need in Alabama. College volunteers will serve alongside existing disaster relief teams.

“One issue that arose after the April 2011 tornadoes was the use of untrained volunteers,” Nuss explained. “Thousands of Alabama university students responded to the needs around them, but they lacked the training that SBC disaster relief required. While students could still be involved in the basic relief efforts, they wanted to help on a deeper level and to be part of the official Alabama Baptist disaster relief ministry.” 

Alabama Baptist campus ministers have been working with Mel Johnson, SBOM disaster relief strategist, to develop a training model that can be used to credential college students quickly. 

“The collegiate training captures students’ passion and energy,” Johnson said. “They have an important capacity to listen to, and pray with, victims of disaster and they have the vigor to assist with clean-up after a disaster.”

According to Johnson, a task force of leaders from campus ministries and disaster relief will refine Alabama’s collegiate training model. “This is a work in progress,” he said.

Chris Mills, an associate in collegiate and student ministries, agrees.

“We are ... on the front end of this and our state is partnering with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to see how we can better do that,” he said.

Sean Thornton, Baptist campus minister at the University of Montevallo, participated in the training and left feeling excited about the possibility of college students being credentialed for disaster relief ministry.

“The training session opened the eyes of the students to the level of preparedness they would need to serve effectively in times of disaster. Many students have the mindset of ‘Let’s just go help someone’ when, in reality, their opportunities will be limited and their access restricted if they are not credentialed. My students left the training knowing they were part of a bigger picture,” Thornton said.

According to Melody Harper, campus strategist for the International Mission Board, her informal surveys among students at Baptist universities and state disaster relief directors provided a “connector” that got the ball rolling to involve college students in disaster relief ministry. She can see the potential.

“Collegiate disaster relief training brings together missions education, campus ministry and disaster relief — three hallmarks of our denomination,” Harper said.

The California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) has trained 130 students during the past 18 months, according to Don Hargis, Baptist men’s ministry specialist at the CSBC.

“Having college students as part of disaster relief ministry brings energy, freshness and innovation to a ministry of mostly retired volunteers. The students will learn from us and we will learn from them,” Hargis said.

Susan Peugh, NAMB disaster relief coordinator, said the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) conducted disaster relief training in March at Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. Professor David Coggins and Fritz Wilson, FBC disaster relief strategist, led the training as part of Florida’s disaster relief ministry project.

The Tennessee group is still in the planning stages for its training.

Peugh noted other college groups also have been involved in disaster relief. Sixty students from Morehead State University in Kentucky spent their spring break assisting homeowners in the West Liberty area with cleanup after a tornado struck at the end of February. Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia partnered with Liberty University to send 300 Liberty students to Binghamton, N.Y., in October 2011, to assist victims of flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The Liberty students were trained on two consecutive Wednesday nights before leaving for New York.

“We’re hoping to get more states engaged in collegiate disaster relief ministry, along with training schedules,” Peugh said. “This is a different approach and one with great potential.” (Sondra Washington contributed)

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