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Alabama Baptists provide disaster relief in Oklahomacomment (0)

June 27, 2013

By Gary Hardin

Alabama Baptists provide disaster relief in Oklahoma

Alabama Baptist disaster relief volunteers have responded to the physical damage and human need resulting from an EF5 tornado that devastated Moore, Okla., on May 20.

On June 9, a team of 11 disaster relief chaplains arrived in Moore and ministered for a week, according to Bill Stephens, team leader. “Some of our chaplains served with chain saw teams from other states, some went out with our assessment teams and the rest canvassed homes street by street, house by house,” he said.

The team of chaplains from Alabama provided relief for several Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief chaplains who had been ministering amid the destruction for weeks since the tornado struck the town of Moore. “The Oklahoma chaplains were weary,” Stephens said.

Stephens also noted that some of Alabama’s disaster relief chaplains had the opportunity to minister to teachers and parents at Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children were killed. 

“A constant stream of people came by each day just to see this school made famous by the news media,” he said. “Our chaplains felt good about the ministry they did.” 

Gene Burson, a disaster relief chaplain from Elmore Baptist Association, ministered to residents who had lost their houses by talking with them, praying with them and giving them Bibles. 

“They no longer had Bibles, because their Bibles had been blown away by the tornado,” Burson said.

In addition to the chaplaincy ministry, three skid steer teams have served in Moore and Oklahoma City. A skid steer is a compact machine used for loading that also has the ability to push, pull and lift material. The first team arrived in Moore on June 5. A second team came a week later, and the third team left Alabama headed to Oklahoma on June 19.

The new disaster relief skid steer ministry was made possible as a result of the Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief Offering in 2012. One of those skid steers was taken to Oklahoma.

Glenn Baggett, state skid steer coordinator, enlisted volunteers for the three teams. 

“This was an unusual deployment for us,” Baggett said. “Normally our skid steers follow chain saw teams and haul and push tree limbs to streets for pickup. But in Oklahoma we used the skid steer to tear down houses ruined by the tornado, then push house debris to the streets.”

Several of Alabama’s disaster relief volunteers mentioned how heartbreaking the time in Oklahoma had been. 

“When I stood at the base of a pile of debris from a tornado-destroyed home I felt I was standing in the middle of a city landfill,” said Ted Watts, a skid steer blue cap from Elmore Association. Watts told how a homeowner stood beside him one day looking at the pile of rubble that once had been his home and said, “Forty years of my life is in that pile of debris.”

Larry Tidwell, a skid steer operator from St. Clair Baptist Association, said, “I felt devastated to see people in the situation they were in. All their belongings were gone, and the homes they had worked so hard to purchase had been destroyed and reduced to rubble.”

Baggett said, “It was difficult to stand in neighborhoods where all the homes had been flattened and to see people’s houses and belongings scattered for miles.”

Dewey Lewis Sr., from St. Clair Association, has served in disaster relief ministry since 1990, and he said, “The damage in Oklahoma was some of the worst I’ve seen in my years of disaster relief work.”

Frank Autrey, disaster relief coordinator for Elmore Association, said, “I hurt for the people of Oklahoma. I’ve prayed for them, and I’ve given money. My heart goes out to them.”

Despite the difficulty of the ministry in Oklahoma, Watts was quick to point out the blessings.

“It’s an honor to serve and help people in need,” he said. “We saved many homeowners thousands of dollars because they didn’t have to pay for skid steer work, and our chaplains had numerous opportunities to talk with people about the hope that is in Christ.”

Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said, “Sam Porter, the state disaster relief director for Oklahoma ... spoke well of the contributions of our Alabama Baptist disaster relief volunteers. The dedication and devotion of our volunteers is a testament to Great Commission ministries through Alabama Baptists.”

For more information, visit www.sbdr.org.

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