'We've got a job to do': Florida Baptist staff assist in recovery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--During the first week after Hurricane Charley ripped through the Florida peninsula, between 40 and 50 Florida Baptist Convention employees were deployed to the eight-county disaster area.

They served as volunteer coordinators, spiritual counselors, radio communicators and secretaries. They answered phones, set up commodity distributions, assessed damage and located housing for volunteers. They visited churches, contacted pastors and surveyed migrant communities.

After the first week, another handful of employees were dispatched to relieve some of the first responders.

John Cross, pastor of the South Biscayne Baptist Church in North Port, said the staff involvement was “a wonderful job in partnering."

"Twelve hours after the storm ended Eddie Blackmon was sitting in our parking lot, saying, ‘We've got a job to do.'", Cross said of Blackmon, who serves as associate director of the Florida Baptist Men, the entity that responds to disaster relief.

Within hours, the Florida Baptist Convention's feeding unit was stationed at North Port, Fla., establishing a command post. Staff persons were assigned to coordinate volunteers, housing and recovery crews.

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, traveled to the hardest hit areas on Monday after the storm. He and two staff members, Cecil Seagle, director of the convention's missions division, and Jim Chavis, director of the church development division, began a systematic visit to every church in the hurricane’s path to ascertain damage by the storm and examine needs of pastors.

Within the first week over 170 churches had been surveyed. The church assessments were expected to continue throughout the hurricane zone.

“Dr. Sullivan has been a great encouragement to me and my pastors,” said Rafael de Armas, director of missions for the Peace River Baptist Association, whose own home was damaged by the storm. “I would not have known how important that was if I had not been affected.”

Sullivan has pledged to help Florida Baptist pastors financially in the coming weeks.

“While many of our pastors report that everything is fine right now, I believe in three to four weeks new needs will become apparent,” he said. “The citrus industry was especially hard hit with an estimated 50-75 percent of the crop lost. As people are without work, offerings will decline and money for salaries will not be available.

“As we did after Hurricane Andrew, Florida Baptists will stand in the gap for our pastors and their staff. Money will be made available to help them get through this crisis.”

Hurricane Charley cut a path of destruction from Punta Gorda to Arcadia and Orlando, before rolling out to sea near Daytona Beach. It left an estimated two million persons without electrical power, caused an estimated $11 billion in property damage and crippled dozens of communities.

As 18 Florida Baptist and Southern Baptist disaster relief mobile feeding units were dispatched to 13 different church locations, Florida Baptist Convention staff members were assigned to the individual churches to handle logistical operations and to coordinate over 2,000 volunteers that had arrived within the first week. The Florida Baptist staff members served as a liaison between pastors and recovery operations so that the church staff could focus on their own members’ needs.

The staff established commodity distributions in other churches and canvassed the respective communities to meet food and financial needs.

When Herman Rios, director of language evangelism and stewardship for the FBC, learned that a Hispanic family in rural Arcadia needed electricity to provide treatments for an asthmatic child, he found a generator for the home. As he distributed diapers, canned foods and water along the rural country roads, Rios led 33 people to decisions for Christ.

In making employee assignments, “we tried to take into consideration the needs of the area,” said Glen Owens, assistant executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention. “Many of the churches and communities where they were assigned had specific language needs. Others had specific skills requests.”

Additional staff in Jacksonville supported the relief effort.

The assistance brought back memories of 1992, when Florida Baptist Convention staff provided on-site assistance for six months following Hurricane Andrew.

The staff will remain in the area as long as needs exist, Sullivan said.


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