MIDLAND – Everything Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers do in a crisis, centers on not only meeting physical needs, but extending the invitation to receive eternal, spiritual Hope.
SBDR responds to a wide range of crises, primarily meeting critical needs in the aftermath of natural disasters. We are part of one of the largest disaster response groups in the nation, we fall under the auspices of Send Relief, which is a collaboration between the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.
This network of state-based volunteer teams does more than just clean up; we bring the healing of Christ to those whose lives have been impacted. Everything SBDR and Send Relief do to meet needs in the throes of a crisis centers on not only meeting physical needs but extending the invitation to receive eternal, spiritual hope.
When we go to a home to help, we try to have a volunteer chaplain on every team that interacts with a homeowner. This is regularly the most important person on the team. While the other volunteers focus on physical needs, the chaplain interacts more with the homeowner. They listen to them, let them tell their stories, and are ready to share the good news about Jesus. Those that are not saved are usually amazed that we travel as far as we have and do this work, at no cost to them, because we love them in Jesus’ name.
To be a Chaplain, you must be trained in another Disaster Relief discipline. We want our Chaplains to understand all aspects of a disaster and recovery. The Chaplain serves the needs of the volunteers, as well as survivors of a disaster.
On the physical side, teams from Michigan focus on three main areas: flood relief, chainsaw and feeding.
Flood recovery, sometimes referred to as “mud-out” involves removing furniture, appliances and personal belongings that were affected by flood waters. We try to reclaim what we can and then aid in disposing of what can’t be saved. It may include shoveling mud from homes. We tear out sodden drywall and insulation and take everything down to the studs. We then apply disinfectant to the affected areas of the home for mold remediation. Our goal is to leave homes “contractor ready”, as livable as possible while the homeowners wait for rebuilding.
Chainsaw, as the name implies, is the cutting and pulling of trees, limbs and debris that have fallen due to high winds. It also includes putting tarps on roofs that have been damaged. We focus on trees that are blocking drives, doorways, and houses. Cutting the wood is just half the job. It takes just as many volunteers to help pull the brush and pile the cut wood so that it can be eventually removed. This much needed part of the task can be done by those that are not comfortable running a chainsaw.
Feeding involves preparing food. It is for the volunteers that are assisting in cleanup. It may also involve feeding the community at large if they have been impacted by larger scale outages of utilities such as electricity or water. We may be working in a church kitchen or a mobile kitchen unit. We follow health department requirements, similar to those in a commercial kitchen such as a restaurant or school cafeteria. We don’t always know what food will be available to prepare so the feeding team regularly must get creative with the menus. There is a camaraderie among the volunteers that is hard to explain. The work is not “fun”. It is tiring, and frequently we are in unpleasant conditions. However, you are working side-by-side with others that know and love the Lord. You are doing what He has called us for, to help those in need and show them God’s love in real and tangible ways. Those we help have very real needs. They frequently tell us they are blessed by our assistance. What we learn however is how true the Scripture is when it says it is better to give than receive (Acts 20:35). We also come away blessed.
Training in all these areas is offered on a regular basis for those that may be interested. We urge you to attend and find out if this may be for you. We are looking for additional helpers to add to the pool of volunteers. Typically, only a fraction of the Michigan DR volunteers are available to travel to any particular disaster area when we are called out. We don’t know when a disaster will occur, so we always need to be ready.
Among the places (and types of disasters) Michigan SBDR volunteers were called to in 2022 include:
Ohio – tornado - feeding and chainsaw
Colorado – wildfire - feeding
Florida - hurricane relief – feeding
Michigan – tornado damage assessment and chainsaw
We ask for your prayers for the homeowners and the survivors. They have been devastated and need the strength and hope of Christ. Pray that the witness of our volunteers across all our locations will be strong, powerful, and visible.
If you would like to join us or want more information, you can find it at the Michigan Disaster relief website at https://bscm.org/dr or call (810)714-1907.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill LaFollette and his wife Linda live in Midland. They have two adult children and two grandchildren. They volunteer with community organizations and attend Sunrise Baptist Church.