FEMA chief praises Baptist DR; chaplains becoming a key need

EDISON, N.J. (BP) -- On the 11th day after landfall of Hurricane Sandy, more than 750 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were continuing to aid survivors in hard-hit communities. Their work has not gone unnoticed.

Craig Fugate, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, voiced appreciation to SBDR leaders in a conference call Nov. 7 for their response to Sandy.

"Thanks to everyone," said Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator. "It has been a busy time. The president and the rest of the team appreciate Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. This will not be a short response. We still have a lot to do. Until people are back in their homes, Southern Baptist [volunteers] will be needed. Thank you for all that Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has done."

Coordinating logistics with FEMA, the American Red Cross (ARC), The Salvation Army, state and local governments is a daily task for SBDR leaders. The North American Mission Board routinely maintains representation at the FEMA and ARC national headquarters for the duration of large-scale disaster responses such as Sandy.

The recognition of that service came quickly from another government leader in the hard-hit community of Middletown, N.J., this week, Gov. Chris Christie.

"Ah, my friends with disaster relief," the New Jersey governor said when he met SBDR volunteers from Oklahoma serving in Middletown Nov. 5. Christie thanked the volunteers for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the people of his state.

SBDR volunteers who were among the first responders to Sandy will begin heading home soon. Replacement teams will begin arriving this weekend and into next week. One of those units is a Tennessee recovery team, which completed its 18th job Friday in the Norwalk, Ct., area.

Maryland-Delaware incident commander Carl Brill reported an interesting occurrence in Crisfield, Md., where local leaders developed a system to collect needs and communicate them to volunteers.

"They are using white towels to identify homes where help is needed," Brill said. "It made me think of the passage that the fields are white for harvest. There are a lot of white towels in Crisfield. They need help and we have a lot of work to do."

SBDR is preparing meals at five locations in New York and six in New Jersey. The overall meal count for the response stands at more than 275,000. The SBDR kitchen stationed in Deer Park, N.Y., staffed by volunteers from New York and Arkansas, for example, prepared more than 10,000 meals Friday. Mud-out and cleanup jobs also were on the increase in New York.

"New York will not have that many chainsaw jobs," said NAMB DR team leader Mickey Caison, who leads the New York incident command team housed at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association office. "The jobs will be for repairs, mud-out and pump-out. Identifying jobs will also be a challenge at times.

"I want to challenge everyone who comes to bring chaplains," Caison added. "There is a tremendous need."

NAMB DR executive director Fritz Wilson echoed Caison's challenge. Wilson said NAMB DR chaplain Enio Aguero will be arriving soon to coordinate chaplaincy efforts. Wilson said Aguero, a National Guard chaplain, has years of experience in DR response chaplaincy.

"I want to stress the need for chaplains," Wilson said. "We need people who are dedicated to chaplain ministry. Yes, all of our volunteers can share with people but when you are in the middle of a job you may miss an opportunity. We need chaplains coming with teams."

Southern Baptist volunteers in New England were at work in Connecticut, helping homeowners lacking sufficient insurance to cover the damage to their homes.

"It was just a good connection for ministry and for the local church," said Bruce James, team leader for evangelism, disaster relief and men's ministry with the Baptist Convention of New England. He said Connecticut bore the brunt of the damage from Hurricane Sandy in New England, and SBDR is assessing how they can be of further help to the state.

In West Virginia, the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia kitchen and crew completed work and returned home Thursday. The Baptist General Association of Virginia kitchen continues to serve, providing more than 4,000 meals Friday, Nov. 9.

Several counties in the state continued to struggle with power outages and heavy snow.

"Some people have been told not [to expect their power to come back on] till Thanksgiving," said Don Knotts, pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in Buckhannon, adding that if temperatures continue to rise and melt the snow, flooding could be a future concern.

West Virginians pull together during tough times, Knotts said, so the disaster provides "an opportunity for us to reach out beyond the four walls with no more motivation other than just to help our neighbors and to share Christ."

Referencing two SBDR units that have been stationed in West Virginia preparing meals for distribution to afflicted areas, Knotts said there is "no finer working system" than SBDR, whose volunteers he praises for rising before dawn and working hard throughout the day.

"These people have been self-sacrificing to meet the need of the folks here in West Virginia," Knotts said. "And their whole motivation is to be Jesus to someone in need."

From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the ARC and The Salvation Army.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB's disaster relief fund via namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."


Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. John Evans, a writer in Houston, contributed to this article.