September 16, 2014
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Wildfire relief imparts hope in Wash. state
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Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from Washington state, June Rezentes (left) of New Hope Baptist Church in Cresswell talks with fellow volunteers Cliff and Sherry Larson of Eastmont Baptist Church in East Wenatchee as they clean up from dinner preparation for survivors of the largest wildfire in Washington state history.  Photo by Tobin Perry/NAMB.
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An eastern Washington wildfire leaves a trail of destruction in Pateros and other communities in a 400-square-mile area more than four times the size of Seattle. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are preparing meals for and counseling survivors of a fire that has been raging since July 14.  Photo by SBDR volunteer Gerry Roe.
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Posted on Jul 25, 2014 | by Tobin Perry

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CHELAN, Wash. (BP) -- An older gentleman labored on two crutches into an American Red Cross feeding station servicing fire survivors at a senior center in Washington state. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Gerry Roe can't help but wipe away a tear when she thinks about it.

The man was partially paralyzed, but he wasn't looking for food for himself. He wanted to take the meals prepared by SBDR volunteers to others in the community after wildfire in eastern Washington destroyed more than 150 homes and caused the evacuation of another 1,200 residents.

"He came in on crutches but he was there to help others," said Roe, a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Springfield, Ore., who was serving on the team that prepared the meals.

Roe and 20-plus Northwest Baptist Convention volunteers have been providing meals in Twisp, Wash. -- about 1,200 a day -- since Monday (July 18). More than 1,500 firefighters and support staff are now battling the blaze, called the Carlton Complex Fire, which started on July 14 as four separate fires. Now the largest fire in Washington history, it has burned more than 400 square miles, according to news reports, encompassing an area more than four times the size of Seattle.

"Some of the people may not have had their homes destroyed, but they had their power and water go out," Roe said. "One grandmother with five grandchildren came in [to where Southern Baptist-prepared meals were being served]. We asked her how she fared and she told us that she had a nursery business, and without power they weren't able to cool it. They lost thousands of dollars of inventory."

Rain on Wednesday provided hope for containment but also raised fears of additional lightning strikes that could spread the fire. The rain brought with it flash-flood warnings, which can complicate firefighting efforts.

Southern Baptist volunteers also prepared meals at Chelan High School in Chelan, Wash., and then some volunteers traveled with American Red Cross volunteers into impacted areas to distribute them. SBDR chaplains provided a listening ear for survivors and shared the hope of the Gospel when given the opportunity.

"They're scared," said James F. Vines, an SBDR chaplain from Richland (Wash.) Baptist Church. "They're uncertain about what's going to happen and anxious to get to their homes because not only have their homes been destroyed but all the power and everything in the area is gone. So they're really concerned. But they just want someone to talk to, so we just listen to them. It's amazing how relaxed some of them get when they have someone to talk to."

Gary Floyd, the Northwest Baptist Convention's disaster relief director, expects increased ministry opportunities in the days ahead as Southern Baptists help with cleanup work in the impacted area. At that point, he said, opportunities for help from other state conventions may arise.

"That's one of the things our chaplains are doing right now," Floyd said. "They're out and about talking to people getting a feel for how things are in process. They're also looking for ways we can help people right away related to their homes."

Floyd said the most important things Southern Baptists can do currently is to pray and contribute resources to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. He asks Southern Baptists to pray that Northwest Baptist Convention churches will see the relief efforts as an opportunity to engage people with God's love.

"I hope people [impacted by the fire] will see that there is a God who loves them and cares about them," Floyd said. "I hope they can see that God's love can reach them even in the midst of crisis."

Floyd also noted that the region has been in need of new churches. He asked Southern Baptists to pray that God would call people who learn of the region through news reports about the wildfire devastation to move there to plant churches.

The North American Mission Board coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, 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 American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Individuals wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
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Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
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