What Is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief?
Since 1967, when a handful of Texans answered God’s call, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) has grown into one of the largest disaster response agencies in the U.S. with more than 82,000 trained volunteers and 1552 mobile units. Volunteers stand ready to be called out when disaster strikes.
SBDR desires to represent Jesus Christ in the middle of a crisis. Believers are under scriptural and moral obligation to provide a positive witness of the love of Jesus to everyone. As Christians, we are to demonstrate love to those affected by disasters through the efficient and immediate use of the resources, talents and time entrusted to them.
Through the development of a cooperative team effort, needs can be efficiently and effectively met for the glory of God. Every Southern Baptist Convention in North America now has a disaster relief ministry. They vary in their abilities, number of units, number of trained volunteers and resources.
Southern Baptists are usually involved in meeting immediate needs in an emergency relief response; sending chaplains, feeding units and medical teams. During recovery, SBDR continues operating feeding units, shower and laundry units, clean-up crews and emergency repairs. Depending on the nature of the disaster needs, SBDR teams may continue to serve as the response transitions to rebuilding.
SBDR is a founding member of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) and has national signed agreements with:
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- The American Red Cross (ARC)
- The Salvation Army (TSA)
- National Voluntary Organizations Assisting in Disaster (VOAD)
- Mercy Medical Airlift
- Convoy of Hope
- The Army Military Auxiliary Radio (MARS) Unit
- North American Mission Board (NAMB)
- Baptist Global Response (BRG)
History of Disaster Relief
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief traces its beginnings to the actions of the Southern Baptist Convention of 1966, at which time $50,000 was authorized for the Home Mission Board to use in relief efforts.
In 1967, Hurricane Beulah ravaged the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico. Robert E. (Bob) Dixon, had just moved from the First Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee, to work with Royal Ambassadors and Texas Baptist Men. Following the devastation of Hurricane Beulah, Dixon used camp craft skills and turned one-gallon cans into miniature stoves called “buddy burners,” which were used to prepare hot food for people affected by the disaster as well as the volunteer workers. Texas Baptist Men again provided hot meals and the love of God to disaster victims in response to a tornado that cut a deadly swath through Lubbock and the Hurricane Celia’s devastation of Corpus Christi.
The 1971 Mary Hill Davis Texas State Mission Offering allotted $25,000 for a disaster relief mobile feeding unit for Texas Baptist Men. With these funds Dr. John LaNoue and other volunteers purchased and converted a used 18-wheeler into the first mobile feeding unit. The mobile feeding unit made its maiden voyage in 1972 when a flash flood struck the Sequin/New Braunfels area of central Texas. The unit prepared and served more than 2,500 hot meals to the disaster victims and disaster relief workers.
So began the tradition still followed today by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief – responding quickly to needs, setting up ministry in the midst of devastation and providing for the physical and spiritual needs of disaster victims and relief workers.
In 1973, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers responded to the first international disaster. An earthquake affected Managua, Nicaragua, and volunteers constructed buildings to house seven congregations. In 1974, the 18-wheel mobile feeding unit and volunteers responded to Hurricane Fifi in Honduras.
By 1976 four more state Baptist conventions (Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kansas/Nebraska) had established disaster relief mobile units and joined Texas in this new area of ministry. By 1988 nine more state Baptist conventions had joined the disaster relief ministry: Tennessee (1979), Alabama (1981), Illinois, Arkansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida and Ohio. A total of 17 mobile units now made up the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief fleet operated by 14 state Baptist conventions. Between 1966 and 1988 Southern Baptists responded to more than 20 disasters domestically and internationally and met the needs of thousands of disaster victims.
While the Brotherhood Commission in Memphis, Tennessee had initially been responsible for the disaster relief ministry, in 1997 during the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Dallas, Texas, messengers adopted the Covenant for the New Century. The SBC was reorganized and three national agencies – the Brotherhood Commission, Radio and Television Commission and the Home Mission Board (NAMB). One of the nine ministry assignments given to NAMB was “to assist churches in the United State and Canada in relief ministries to victims of disaster.” Disaster relief along with other ministries of the Brotherhood Commission moved to the North American Mission Board located in Alpharetta, Georgia.
As the ministry has grown, the leadership structure has also evolved. In the beginning, a small group of volunteers with a limited ministry capacity was available. A team leader (known as the blue cap) and a few individuals would move into a community and provide hot meals, listening ears and loving hearts. They would often enlist the members of local congregations in the serving lines. This strategy provided a link between the disaster relief ministry and the local congregation. Once the disaster relief units left the affected community, the local church and its members could continue to provide ongoing ministry to the community. With the signing of the American Red Cross Statement of Understanding in 1986, a more formal leadership team was needed. The state Baptist convention disaster relief directors developed more blue caps (unit directors) to give proper direction and guidance to each unit.
The development of the white cap position was approved by the state Brotherhood directors during the 1994 annual meeting. In addition to the national and state director, provision was made to deploy a white cap to give overall coordination to an area affected by disaster. White caps also provided coordination of multiple units of a particular ministry type (i.e., feeding, child care, or recovery). It was not unusual to need a team of eight to 12 people to give leadership and coordination to a large, multi-state disaster relief response.
Another development in the operational leadership of disaster relief was the institution of the Disaster Operations Center (DOC) in 1999. The DOC is located in the NAMB Volunteer Mobilization Center and becomes operational during a multi-state response. The national offsite coordinator is housed at the DOC and provides technical and logistical support of the operation. In addition to the activation and deployment of volunteers and units, the DOC also keeps the official log of the operation. It is staffed by members of the Adult Volunteer Mobilization Unit at NAMB and disaster relief volunteers who are called in to assist.
The institution of the incident command system (ICS) of management during Hurricane Lili in 2002 is a result of the continued growth of the disaster relief ministry. Proper stewardship of resources and good partnership principles led to using a central command system to handle the number of volunteers, state conventions and types of ministries involved in a large response.
The growth of the disaster relief ministry is also reflected by the Statements of Understanding (SOU) that Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has signed with partner organizations. The first SOU between Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the American Red Cross was signed in 1986, when the former Brotherhood Commission was responsible for disaster response. In 1995, an SOU was signed between the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board to set up a process for Southern Baptists to respond to international disasters.
Since 1967, when a handful of Texans answered God’s call, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has grown into one of the three largest disaster relief agencies in the United States. (along with the American Red Cross and Salvation Army). Trained volunteers stand ready to be called out when disaster strikes anywhere in the world. As Lloyd Jackson of Virginia states, “Disaster relief provides a unique opportunity to translate the message and person of Jesus Christ into flesh and blood as His followers respond in love and compassion to hurting people regardless of circumstanced, social status, financial situation, language, political persuasion, theological stance, education or race. ‘As you do unto these, you do unto me’ remains the guideline for ministry to people in and through disaster relief.” To God be the glory!
Disaster Relief in Arizona
Prior to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Arizona Southern Baptists had only a handful of volunteers who had worked with other states’ Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams. Rick Wiles, Randy and Bertha Meeker and Jimmy and Linda Creekmur were instrumental in beginning SBDR in Arizona following Hurricane Katrina. Several pieces of equipment were purchased or built including a shower trailer, a large generator and a field kitchen as Arizona Southern Baptists began to be available to assist in disasters. Training events were held and many volunteers were trained.
In the early days of AZ SBDR, Mitch McDonald led as State Director as the small group grew. In August of 2006, Arizona SBDR was called on by the Disaster Operations Center at the North American Mission Board to assist in the response to Hurricane Gustav. Mitch led a group of about a dozen vehicles including the shower/laundry, the generator, the field kitchen, a mobile command unit, chaplains and a tractor trailer full of food toward where the hurricane’s landfall was predicted in Baton Rouge, LA. Arizona’s first large response to disaster was successfully carried out and then the whole company moved to respond to Hurricane Rita in Livingston, TX. The volunteers and equipment returned home about a month after they had left, with much experience and a sense of satisfaction that finally Arizona Southern Baptists were able to respond well when needed.
In the years since the beginning of SBDR in Arizona, responses have included floods in Minot, ND, fires in California, Colorado and Texas, mine disasters, multiple hurricanes in the Southeast, other floods in the Midwest, migrant crisis along the border in California, Arizona and Texas, fires here at home including the Yarnell Hill fire, war refugee crisis in Europe and other disasters around the world.
AZ SBDR training has evolved through the years beginning as a once-a-year major training weekend to now include regional training days scheduled by request of churches and/or associations. We also partner with KLOVE radio in multiple chaplaincy training events. More opportunities for serving continue to occur as the disaster scene seems to grow yearly. There remains much work to do to encourage more Arizona Southern Baptists to get trained and get involved in this most practical hands-on mission opportunity.