Alabamians celebrate ‘pacesetting’ disaster relief ministry to hurtingcomment (0)
November 21, 2013
By Grace Thornton
A sea of bright yellow filled the aisles and the back wall of Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, to the point that messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention annual meeting had to crane their necks to see it all.
The “yellow shirts” — from schoolteachers to preachers, students to physicians — were all trained disaster relief volunteers.
“We are ready to respond all because of your faithfulness and Cooperative Program (CP) support,” said Mel Johnson, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief strategist. “We are proud to represent you.”
The Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief force — one of two featured state ministries during the 2013 annual meeting — is part of a larger force of 90,000 disaster relief volunteers nationwide.
Rob Mayes, a member of First Baptist Church, Prattville, is one of those volunteers.
He was deployed as a chaplain to Moore, Okla., after an EF5 tornado devastated the city in May.
He found himself on duty at a memorial at Plaza Towers Elementary School, standing alongside the mother and 10-year-old sister of a 9-year-old girl who had died in the tornado.
“I stood quietly (at the memorial) and then I had an opportunity to talk with them,” Mayes said.
The memorial was laden with stuffed animals, and the little girl asked her mother, “Mom, what does all of this mean?”
Mayes got down on one knee, face to face with the little girl and explained to her that stuffed animals were a way for children to say “we love you and we care for you.”
The little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mom, we’ve got to go get a stuffed animal for my little sister.”
Vicki Hyde, a disaster relief chaplain and member of Whitesburg Baptist, is another who’s had the opportunity to pray with tornado victims and share Christ’s love with them.
“We have the great privilege of presenting Jesus Christ to individuals who are hurting,” she told messengers during the Nov. 13 presentation. “We have nationally and internationally recognized credentials that allow us to go into communities that are hurting.”
And as a woman, Hyde said, she’s uniquely qualified to “walk into the heart of a woman and empathize with her loss and offer her hope in Jesus Christ.”
The Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief team has a “desperate shortage” of women chaplains, Johnson said, urging pastors to encourage qualified women in their churches to become disaster relief volunteers.
Volunteers statewide have spent their time developing various skills and talents for disaster relief, from chaplaincy to IT to chainsaw to child care.
“Everyone is contributing to the cadence of the Great Commission,” Johnson said.
Disaster relief, he said, “has been heralded in Southern Baptist life as one of the crown jewels” of our ministries. Volunteers are “ready and prepared to deploy locally, nationally and internationally,” Johnson said, noting that Alabama is a “pacesetting state.”
Pacesetting states are each given a month to be on alert to be called up first to an international disaster, and Alabama’s month is March, he said.
Because Texas Baptists were assigned November, their team is deploying to help in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines on Nov. 8.
“In the crisis, disaster relief volunteers will reach into the lives of people who need a Savior,” Johnson said. “As you see these people all over this sanctuary — with a phone call, they showed up. They will dedicate themselves to come help you.”
Through a video presentation, the voices of person after person thanked Alabama Baptists for showing up in their darkest moments.
One woman, through tears, said, “Somebody was here with me. I wasn’t here by myself, and I knew that everything was going to be OK.”
Another man asked if Alabama Baptist teams working in New Jersey could “leave Jesus here” in a place where churches were closing down “left and right.”
Another told the story of a 93-year-old storm victim who knelt and gave his life to Christ on his front porch as volunteers cleaned out his home.
Johnson thanked Alabama Baptists for their support of disaster relief through the CP.
“This is your ministry,” he said. “Thank you for the ministry you make possible as a convention of churches.”