FENTON, MI – When disaster strikes, “gold shirts” move. Some wear blue caps and others wear white caps as a distinction. Sometimes they stage themselves in advance of the catastrophe and danger. At other times, these generous heroes are instructed to stand down and arrive in waves, relieving one team after another, because the recovery in the hard hit region is going to take months. Regardless of the requests or directions, team members assist strangers because their faith in Christ drives their response to those in crisis. The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have been around for fifty years. Throughout the nation over 80,000 trained volunteers respond when troubles come.
One member’s pick-up is laden with relief tools because of his burden to be ready at a moment’s notice. A chainsaw swims in the bed of the pick-up while he drives. Unopened water bottles are wrapped in plastic and covered from dust from a previous relief effort. Volunteers always hydrate on the job. Rubber boots and leather boots, stained and scarred with evidence of previous missions, tell stories of long days, sore muscles and hearts of gold.
In particular, Michigan Southern Baptists have a tested and performance-proven Disaster Relief (DR) team. They provide hot meals, clean water, childcare, laundry, and structure repairs. Many of them know how to safely cut 4-foot thick trees with chain saws. Others know how to remove the mud, filth, and water from a family’s basement while comforting the grieving family members. Married couples, sons and fathers, and teams from various churches form the brotherhood known as Michigan Disaster Relief. They are an elite group who find the balance between practical, rapid assistance and emotional, spiritual care. They work hard and show their compassion for others in the tears that stream over their soiled and exhausted faces.
Michigan residents have benefited repeatedly from this army of volunteers.
Years ago when a tornado followed highway M-50 across two counties in southeastern Michigan, trees were uprooted and thrown on top of homes and cars. House exteriors were ripped off and scattered miles away like debris from a tossed trash can. Finally, after the tornado had passed, residents exited the safe haven of their basements only to learn that their roof had vanished, or some other disaster has befallen them.
Within hours, volunteers from Michigan, established their base of operations at Dundee Baptist Church. They spent weeks assisting those in need. Sawing, praying, feeding, counseling, their work was never-ending. They reminded residents that even in the aftermath of chaos that God is there to calm their fears.
One week in recent years, a storm dropped so much water in Warren that the infrastructure could not move or absorb the rain fast enough. Basements of homes were flooded. Bedrooms were destroyed. Within days, personal belongings were covered with mildew and stench. Mold grew from the floor toward the ceiling in mere days. The catastrophe was unmatched.
Volunteers slept in the gymnasium of Warren Woods Baptist Church. Daily, they carried brown-bags lunches to their work sites scattered throughout the city. They walked many miles up and down slimy staircases carrying water-soaked, heavy belongings out of the basements to the yard where the resident would decide whether to save or discard the personal possession laying in front of them. Frazzled and exhausted, the resident would look to the Disaster Relief Chaplain for encouragement and wisdom to make the best decision. On occasion the chaplain responds with, “We have safe chemicals that we can use to wash that down. We can save it.” At other moments, the Chaplain will say, “Mold is likely growing inside that. It will cause you respiratory problems if you keep it.” Regardless of the option, the DR volunteer reminded residents that God had not forgotten them in their times of trouble.
More recently, lead in Flint’s water made international news. Fortunately, Michigan’s Disaster Relief team was there throughout the crisis. Team leaders coordinated the call-out for volunteers as well as the delivery and distribution of water during the coldest months of winter.
Some volunteers distributed water from icy parking lots where residents would gather while others installed water filters inside homes. Westside Baptist Church and Mount Carmel Baptist Church, in Flint, partnered with DR providing places for volunteers to sleep, eat, and recover after long, cold days of service.
Michigan Disaster Relief members are eager to serve. The next time disaster strikes remember that someone from their fraternity is rapidly responding. When their phone or a text message calls them into action. The mail is stopped. The pets are entrusted to family members. Their homes are secured. They grab their go-bags and their suitcases are filled. The vehicle is fueled and they are ready to work.
If you want to know more about how to support or join the Michigan Disaster Relief Team you can find the information you need at bscm.org/disaster-relief.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.