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Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers assist in Oklahoma after deadly tornadocomment (0)

May 30, 2013

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers assist in Oklahoma after deadly tornado

Southern Baptists throughout social media took note that NBC News anchor Brian Williams and reporter Harry Smith mentioned on air the quick response of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers in Moore, Okla., May 21. 

“In the briefings today it was apparent there’s FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and then there’s the faith-based FEMA,” Williams said, standing in front of rubble left by the tornado that devastated the area May 20. “There are no fewer — I counted — than 30 churches that are banding together, and that’s going to be a huge part of this recovery.”

Smith added, “As you and I have seen in so many different places in this country, if you’re waiting for the government, you’re going to be in for an awful long wait. The Baptist men, they’re going to get it done tomorrow.”

Williams agreed, “They’re already delivering food on the street.”

The EF5 tornado, with a width of 1.3 miles at some points, swept through Oklahoma flattening entire neighborhoods, businesses and schools. At press time the death toll was 24 with at least 10 of those children. More than 230 were injured, according to news reports. 

The May 20 tornado followed a near-identical path to a 1999 tornado that hit the state.

The Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief workers were familiar with how to handle the aftermath of a tornado and were in action immediately after the May 20 tornado hit, responding with feeding units, debris cleanup and chaplains. 

Sam Porter, director of disaster relief for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said “(There are) anywhere from 24 to 40 chaplains on the ground every day all across the storm track just to give emotional and spiritual care to people and give them hope because that’s where we find a great place to minister in disaster relief.”

Oklahoma Baptist chaplains were on the ground at the two destroyed elementary schools with the families as they searched for their children, Porter said, and the leader of the chaplaincy effort was involved in several official notification visits. 

Porter reported that 5,500 Oklahoma Baptists were trained in disaster response before the Moore tornado hit, “and today is the day. It’s game-time in Oklahoma with disaster relief.”

Residents of Moore were being allowed back into their demolished neighborhoods May 22. 

Originally reported as an EF4, the National Weather Service upgraded the storm to an EF5, estimating its winds at more than 200 miles per hour. Early estimates indicate the cost of damage from the tornado could exceed $2 billion.

Though security in the affected area remained tight, Oklahoma Baptist feeding and laundry units were in place. As of May 22, 105 Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief volunteers had prepared more than 9,000 meals and made nearly 270 ministry contacts. 

“We will need cleanup assistance for four to five weeks at a minimum,” Porter said. “Because of the nature of the storms there will not be a lot of chainsaw work, but the debris cleanup will be big.”

Fritz Wilson, executive director for disaster relief at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), said a multistate response is expected in support of Oklahoma Baptist efforts and he anticipates out-of-state crews working in the affected areas by May 24.

Wilson asked Southern Baptists to continue praying for survivors and volunteers and to give to the efforts to help sustain the disaster relief ministry. 

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief has sent emergency funds to help the Oklahoma survivors in the beginning recovery stages and are praying for the state. 

“The heart of Southern Baptists comes through in ministry like this,” Wilson said. “Oklahoma Baptists went into action immediately following the storm.”

First Baptist Church, Moore, Okla., which served as a ministry center in response to the 1999 tornado that struck the community and has been instrumental in relief efforts from the earliest moments of this storm, is hosting an Oklahoma Baptist feeding kitchen and soon will host a NAMB command center.

Other churches in the area, like First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Okla., are serving survivors in many ways. 

First, Oklahoma City, is operating a furniture bank, partnering with Good Shepherd food bank and housing volunteers from several areas as well as Samaritan’s Purse.

William Dooley, chair of deacons at First, Oklahoma City, and a 1978 graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, said, “It is amazing to see the people of God respond and witness in the face of such a tragedy.

“Your prayers and your actions are needed now and for the next several months during the recovery and rebuilding.” 

President Obama is scheduled to travel to Oklahoma on May 26 to inspect the damage, visit with families and thank first responders.

To give to disaster relief funds, visit www.sbdr.org.


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