As new storm looms, Southern Baptist volunteers maintain multiple responses

LAKE CHARLES, La.—Heading into the final week of October, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) operations have gone from seeing a light at the end of a tunnel to staring down the barrel of a potential Hurricane Zeta.

The National Hurricane Center estimates that Tropical Storm Zeta will strengthen into a hurricane after crossing Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and entering the Gulf of Mexico. Current projections have Zeta making landfall in southeast Louisiana on Wednesday evening (Oct. 28).

“Tropical Storm Zeta is the 27th named system to come out of the Atlantic this year,” said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR with Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists. “This year has been the second most active hurricane season since 2005, but SBDR and Send Relief will be ready to continue meeting the needs of hurricane survivors.”

Volunteers with Kentucky Southern Baptist Disaster Relief clear debris and downed trees from the home of a southwest Louisiana resident and survivor of Hurricane Laura. Kentucky SBDR photo

SBDR volunteers have been stretched across the Gulf Coast dating back to the landfall of Hurricane Laura on August 29, the most devastating of 2020’s storms so far in the U.S.

Hurricanes Sally and Delta followed Laura, with Delta also hitting southwest Louisiana. In the aftermath of those three storms, SBDR has prepared more than 563,000 meals, completed more than 3,000 chainsaw jobs and reported 543 people making professions of faith through Oct. 25.

Meanwhile in Colorado, snowfall over the weekend brought some relief in the fight against the three historic wildfires that are ravaging the state. Colorado SBDR has been providing meals for evacuees and assessing needs to help homeowners once it is safe to return to their property.

The busy hurricane season hasn’t been the only crisis that SBDR has responded to in 2020. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of volunteers helped to meet needs by working through local food banks and other food distribution centers to provide for those affected directly by the diseases or indirectly by the economic impact of the shutdowns.

Several state teams donated hundreds of thousands of N-95 masks and other personal protective equipment to hospitals and first responders, materials which SBDR typically used in disaster flood recovery.

“There are several different words you could use to describe how hectic this year has been,” said Porter, national director for SBDR with Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists. “But there are also several words to use to describe the faithfulness of our Southern Baptist volunteers. They have been so resourceful and willing to put their lives into the offering plate like never before.”

All of SBDR’s response activity in 2020 has been undertaken amidst health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with the precautions necessary to keep people safe from the disease, volunteers from 29 Southern Baptist state conventions traveled to serve survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.

Sunday, November 8, is Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday, an opportunity for churches, especially in this active year, to recognize the diligence and sacrifices SBDR leaders and volunteers make to send help and hope to those facing life-altering crises. Many volunteers serve long hours for weeks at a time. With more than 80,000 trained disaster relief volunteers, Southern Baptists are among the three largest disaster relief entities in the United States.

Cheryl Wood is one such volunteer. A resident of Colorado, Wood has served as an SBDR volunteer with Colorado Baptists for 14 years. She endured back surgery in the middle of this summer but still traveled to Louisiana in late September to lead an SBDR kitchen that prepared meals following the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Cheryl Wood, right, is a volunteer with Colorado Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR). Wood has volunteered for 14 years and is a key leader in mass feeding within the national SBDR community. Colorado SBDR photo

Wood had spent seven days in Louisiana when she received the call that her leadership was needed in her home state. She has been leading a kitchen in Laporte, Colo., ever since, serving evacuees following the breakout of wildfires in Colorado.

“I just love serving and being the hands and feet of Jesus,” Wood said. “It’s little sleep and a lot of work, but if Jesus can walk through the desert for 40 days, then I can serve on little sleep.”

The fires in Colorado in recent days have burned hundreds of thousands of acres, including more than 200,000 acres burned in the Cameron Peak fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado history according to The Denver Post.

“Our volunteers have been working very hard with all the different issues that we’ve come up against,” said Colorado SBDR director Dennis Belz, referring to dealing with COVID-19 restrictions and other challenges that arise when doing disaster response.

“You’ve got to be ready for the unexpected in this line of work,” said Belz.

The fires in Colorado mirror those experienced earlier in the year by California and the states in the Pacific Northwest. In the Northwest and Colorado, SBDR has prepared nearly 22,000 meals and reported 1 profession of faith.

Published October 26, 2020