By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
ALEXANDRIA – Louisiana Disaster Relief volunteers vaulted into action when requests came in from Alabama and Mississippi for assistance after the recent slate of tornadoes that slashed across the Southland.
[img_assist|nid=7297|title=Alabama Tornado|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=66]Tom Long of Northshore Baptist Association is white cap over operations in Meridian, Mississippi. Larry Cupper of First Baptist Church of Zwolle and Charles Watson of Zoar Baptist Church in Central are serving as the white cap leadership over operations in northeast Alabama.
“Without the support of local church volunteers and the Cooperative Program funding, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief would not not be the third largest volunteer agency in the United States,” said Gibbie McMillan, disaster relief and men’s ministry director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
“We were asked to be the response team for all of DeKalb County, and now have added Marshall County” in Alabama, McMillan continued. “This includes chain saw, mud out, chaplains, installation of blue tarps [on roofs] and the overall administration and coordination of all Disaster Relief volunteers.”
[img_assist|nid=7297|title=Alabama Tornado|desc=The deadly tornadoes that ripped across Mississippi and Alabama left a lot of devastation in its wake. Disaster Relief teams from Louisiana and throughout the South have arrived to help with the clean-up process in these hard-hit areas.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=424]The team was headquartered at First Baptist Church of Geraldine, Ala., which has a sizable parking lot that could be utilized by DR crews.
The last week of April saw unprecedented weather activity across the eastern half of the nation. Some 305 confirmed tornadoes struck 14 states – mostly in the southeastern U.S. – between April 25 and 28, the single largest outbreak in U.S. history and more than twice the number of tornadoes that set the previous record, which was 148 twisters between April 3-4, 1974, according to numerous news reports.
For the month as a whole, more than 600 tornadoes touched down, which again was more than twice the previous record of 267, also set in 1974. The tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa, Ala., was one mile wide and on the ground for 100 miles.
The Mississippi Baptist Convention called Wednesday, April 26. They requested a feeding unit for the Meridian, Miss., area – at First Baptist Church of Meridian – that could handle about 10,000 meals a day. McMillan, who coordinates LBC DR deployment, sent the feeding unit from Northshore Baptist Association, with 10 on the team. They stood down after one week of service.
“Don Gann of Mississippi Baptist Convention was very complimentary of the LBC DR feeding team and shared a word of thanks for our standing ready to help our neighbors in Mississippi,” McMillan said.
Also, April 29, following the storms “These states knew from weather reports that they were fixing to be hit hard,” McMillan said. “They wanted to be prepared to offer immediate assistance to the people in their communities.”
The pre-planning provided a critical edge to immediate response, the Louisiana Disaster Relief director continued.
“The sooner you can be on-site, the better you can help people who have lost everything – which in this case too often meant losing loved ones as well as homes and possessions,” McMillan said. “For many people, talking with one of the eight Disaster Relief chaplains we sent was a critical first step for people who needed someone to listen to their heartache.
“We must remember that as the grief and stress of the ones affected are shared with our chaplains, they too must debrief or else it will become more than they can handle,” McMillan counseled. “The purpose of disaster relief is to offer temporary assistance so that the ones affected can adjust to the reality of the situation.”
The Alabama Baptist Convention called on Louisiana’s help Friday, April 29, asking specifically for chain saw teams. Sixty-five people from the four corners of the state responded and were on-site by mid-week.
“Whenever I called, they didn’t give excuses,” McMillan said. “They just asked ‘where’ and ‘when.’
“It’s a good time to be in Louisiana,” the DR director continued. “It’s a good time to be a Southern Baptist. It’s a good time to be part of a team that makes a difference.”
Disaster Relief changed across the Southern Baptist Convention when the North American Mission Board downsized late last year. About half the national Disaster Relief staff was gone by January. In the wake of that, Disaster Relief directors from the 42 Southern Baptist state/regional conventions “adopted a strategy of responding to the states closest to us,” McMillan said.
“We have strategies in place to build up relationships with state partners so any time a disaster strikes, no state is standing alone,” McMillan said. “It’s very easy for people to lose sight of the big picture. Southern Baptists are not just in Louisiana and Disaster Relief response is as strong as it is because we have a common bond.”
Alabama responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with hundreds of volunteers and thousands of dollars, McMillan said. Louisiana also is responding with money as well as volunteers. “We’re sending a check today to the Alabama Baptist Convention for $50,000 to help ease the pain,” the Louisiana Disaster Relief director said.
Supplies also were sent out last weekend, May 6-8, with items given by generous Louisiana Southern Baptists.
An 18-wheeler from First Baptist Lafayette left Friday, May 6, for Northport Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., carrying bottled water, Gatorade, tarps, diapers, baby formula, baby food, shampoo, soap, razors, deodorant, toilet paper, towels/rags, travel-size items, Depends, feminine hygiene products, work gloves, trash bags, small flashlights, batteries, sunscreen, can openers, canned goods and school supplies.
Trucks went out Saturday, May 7, with similar items from Hope Church in Waldheim to Tuscaloosa, and on Sunday, May 8, from First Baptist Church of Covington and First Baptist Church of Slidell to First Baptist Church of Montgomery, Ala.
“The most effective ways to help now are to pray and to give to Louisiana Disaster Relief,” McMillan said. “All the money that comes in will go to responding to disaster relief. None of it is spent on administration.” To Donate you can give through your local church or send a check to Louisiana Baptist Convention, PO BOX 311, Alexandria, LA 71309-0311 or go to LBC.ORG and donate by credit or debit card.
“Most people want to give,” McMillan said. “Some people can give by going and serving on-site, such as two of our best who are over 80 yrs old and still serving. Others can give dollars and/or items as noted above.
“But when we give God the glory for great things He has done and will do, you can know that praying results in God’s response,” McMillan encouraged. “Do your part and be thankful. It is more blessed to give than to receive, and it is easier as well. Sharing the love of Jesus is seen clearly when we are faithful to support the Cooperative Program. No other denomination has as great a tool as Southern Baptists in doing missions around the world.”
For additional information on Disaster Relief training or to respond to the needs, call the LBC Disaster Relief office at 318.664.5646.