In Okla.: 'Faith-based FEMA' to be 'huge part' of recovery effort

MOORE, Okla. (BP) -- Southern Baptists throughout social media took note that NBC News anchor Brian Williams and reporter Harry Smith mentioned on air the quick response of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers in Moore, Okla., Tuesday (May 21).

"In the briefings today it was apparent there's FEMA and then there's the faith-based FEMA," Williams said, standing in front of rubble left by the tornado that devastated the area Monday. "There are no fewer -- I counted -- than 30 churches that are banding together, and that's going to be a huge part of this recovery."

Smith added, "As you and I have seen in so many different places in this country, if you're waiting for the government, you're going to be in for an awful long wait. The Baptist men, they're going to get it done tomorrow."

Williams agreed, "They're already delivering food on the street."

Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief workers were in action immediately after the tornado hit, responding with feeding units, debris cleanup and chaplains.

Sam Porter, director of disaster relief for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said "anywhere from 24 to 40 chaplains [will be] on the ground every day all across the storm track just to give emotional and spiritual care to people and give them hope because that's where we find a great place to minister in disaster relief."

Oklahoma Baptist chaplains were on the ground at the two destroyed elementary schools with the families as they searched for their children, Porter said, and the leader of the chaplaincy effort was involved in several official notification visits.

Porter reported that 5,500 Oklahoma Baptists were trained in disaster response before the Moore tornado hit, "and today is the day. It's game-time in Oklahoma with disaster relief."

Residents of Moore were being allowed back into their demolished neighborhoods Wednesday afternoon, and the death toll stood at 24, including at least 10 children.

The National Weather Service upgraded the storm to an EF5, estimating its winds at more than 200 miles per hour. Early estimates indicate the cost of damage from the tornado could exceed $2 billion.

Though security in the affected area remained tight, Oklahoma Baptist feeding and laundry units were in place. As of noon Wednesday, 105 Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief volunteers had prepared more than 9,000 meals and made nearly 270 ministry contacts.

"We will need cleanup assistance for four to five weeks at a minimum," Porter said. "Because of the nature of the storms there will not be a lot of chainsaw work, but the debris cleanup will be big."

Fritz Wilson, executive director for disaster relief at the North American Mission Board, said a multistate response is expected in support of Oklahoma Baptist efforts and he anticipates out-of-state crews working in the affected areas by Friday or Saturday.

Wilson asked Southern Baptists to continue praying for survivors and volunteers and to give to the efforts to help sustain the disaster relief ministry.

"The heart of Southern Baptists comes through in ministry like this," Wilson said. "Oklahoma Baptists went into action immediately following the storm."

First Baptist Church in Moore, which served as a ministry center in response to the 1999 tornado that struck the community and has been instrumental in relief efforts from the earliest moments of this storm, is hosting an Oklahoma Baptist feeding kitchen and soon will host a NAMB command center.

Kevin Ezell, NAMB's president, said Oklahoma Baptists "have one of the best disaster relief teams in North America."

Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said "there's no better place to give your dollars than to the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief because they will be on the ground and we will be there when the last piece of debris is picked up and the last person needs to be served."

Customers of LifeWay Christian Stores can donate to disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma as they check out at 160 stores across the country, Martin King of LifeWay Christian Resources, told Baptist Press. Donations will go to Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, and Jordan said they will "use every dime to serve those who have lost so much."

Kevin Durant of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder pledged $1 million for tornado relief through his foundation Tuesday, saying it was difficult to watch coverage of the tragedy on television when he was out of town.

"I call Oklahoma City my home," Durant said. "I go through Moore all the time. It's unfortunate. We're going to come together as a city like we always do and we're going to bounce back."

President Obama is scheduled to travel to Oklahoma on Sunday to inspect the damage, visit with families and thank first responders.

To give to the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief fund, visit okdisasterhelp.com.


Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. With reporting by Joe Conway of the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).