BGR to enhance crisis response overseas

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The creation of Baptist Global Response should go a long way toward improving Southern Baptists' ability to respond quickly in time of disaster, the organization's executive director, Jeff Palmer, says.

"This may be the first time Southern Baptists have had an organization that can provide a highly focused and coordinated response to relief and development needs overseas," said Palmer, who directed both the Mindanao Rural Life Center in the Philippines and the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation in Thailand. "Baptist Global Response seeks to mobilize Southern Baptists' influence, prayer and human and financial resources to meet acute needs like earthquake or hurricane relief."

The organization's focus, however, is far more than just disaster relief, Palmer added.

"Baptist Global Response also focuses on chronic needs like generational poverty and hunger or endemic disease," he said. "We respond to people with critical long-term needs to give them the opportunity to experience lives filled with hope and peace, lives in which they can raise their families in confidence, build their communities with dignity and share with others how to have full and meaningful lives."

Baptist Global Response was incorporated in late 2006 by Southern Baptist leaders who have a heart for development and relief work, Palmer said. The seven-member board of directors is drawn from different walks of life, including key leaders like Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page and longtime development workers like Harold Watson. While the organization isn't an official entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, its board members are all Southern Baptists.

"The International Mission Board has contracted Baptist Global Response as its '21st century partner' for international relief and development," Palmer said. "Baptist Global Response will administer general relief and Southern Baptist world hunger funds on projects conducted in partnership between Baptist Global Response and International Mission Board field personnel and stateside leaders like the disaster relief directors in Baptist state conventions."

Baptist Global Response is headquartered in Singapore, where a good communications infrastructure, excellent banking services and superior travel connections make quick response to disaster much easier, Palmer said. Since Asia is home to two-thirds of the world's population -– and much of the globe's acute and chronic human needs -– Singapore made sense as a home base. A stateside liaison office is located in Nashville, Tenn.

Operating funds have been provided by a grant from a donor and initial staffing is being kept to a minimum, Palmer said. The organization has area directors for five regions -– Asia Rim, Central and South Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas. Palmer was appointed as executive director by the group's board of directors and the stateside office is led by Jim Brown, former director of the International Mission Board’s world hunger and relief ministries office.

"Baptist Global Response seeks to coordinate the global resources of Southern Baptists in response to natural disasters, catastrophic crises and chronic humanitarian needs outside the United States and Canada," said Brown. "We intend to connect people in need with people who care.

"The people in need are those suffering from acute problems such as disasters, wars, epidemics and the like, as well as chronic problems like extreme poverty, hunger and poor health," Brown said. "The people who care are Southern Baptists who want to help make a difference in the lives of needy people worldwide."

Baptist Global Response will work internationally alongside overseas Baptist partners. In the U.S., it will principally work with Baptist state conventions, associations, churches and individuals to train and equip Southern Baptists for relief and development work, Brown said. Through reports on the progress of development and relief projects, Baptist Global Response intends to give Southern Baptists an opportunity to celebrate what they are doing throughout the world to help the poor, needy and suffering.

One of the key tools for mobilizing Southern Baptist resources is "BGR AlertNet," a communications network intended to deliver information about disaster relief needs as soon as possible after a crisis emerges, Brown said. Initially, the network uses e-mail to communicate with key leaders and media, but a blog will soon be added to the organization's Internet site, www.gobgr.org.

One impetus for creating Baptist Global Response is the growing awareness among Southern Baptists about critical human needs -– and an increasing desire to help, Palmer said.

"In the recent past, there has been a significant refocusing on human needs around the world due to acute problems such as tsunamis, earthquakes and fires. There also has been more and more awareness of chronic problems such as poverty, AIDS and hunger," Palmer said. "There is a greater overall sense that Southern Baptists are truly people who care and they want to make more and more of a difference in a needy world.

"The result is that Baptist Global Response is working on ways to respond quickly and effectively to international relief and development needs," Palmer said. "Part of that is a more rapid dissemination of information and another part is a better coordinated effort for Southern Baptists.

"We have on our team some of the best folks I know of in Southern Baptist life to address relief and development needs," he added. "This organization has a quality team with many years of experience in both international relief and development.

"Our main strength, however, will be seen as 16 million Southern Baptists are able to demonstrate more effectively than ever that they are people who care about people in need."

Tommy Puckett, the Alabama Baptist Convention's director of men's ministries and disaster relief, affirmed the launch of Baptist Global Response, noting, "When a disaster takes place, you need knowledgeable people on the scene who can quickly assess the situation, know what kind of response is needed and know who is in the best situation to help.

"In disaster response, speed is of essence," Puckett said. “You need someone who has a panoramic view of the disaster who already knows how to work with government officials and what needs to be in place when volunteers come in to help." Southern Baptist missionaries are a valuable asset in disaster response because they are on the scene almost everywhere disasters occur and can quickly respond, but the mechanism can be cumbersome, Puckett said. Relief efforts sometimes depend on missionaries who have little experience in disaster relief, Puckett said, and responses can be stymied at times by the complexity of relationships between local, state, national and international organizations.

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This article is adapted from The Alabama Baptist, online at www.thealabamabaptist.org. Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn.

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