LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The indescribable roar of the approaching tornado sent Yolanda Spencer scrambling to take cover in her bathtub. The Friday, March 31 vortex churned through her west Little Rock neighborhood, and by Tuesday, April 4, volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) were removing downed trees from her property.
“I’m very delighted and overwhelmed with joy, honestly, because the immense amount of love that’s been shown from outside my community,” Spencer said.
So far, SBDR teams have assisted nearly 100 homeowners with clean-up and recovery, and they’ve provided thousands of meals in Arkansas.
“Every day there is a different church group out. They’re making sure we have meals. They’re making sure we have the things we need,” Spencer continued. “They’re giving us words of encouragement, which, in all actuality, that’s the most important. We need that. We need uplifting right now because it’s just not a good situation.”
The opportunity to provide that sense of hope and joy is why SBDR volunteers do what they do, and it’s why Southern Baptist Convention president Bart Barber, a native Arkansan and pastor of First Baptist Farmersville, Texas, visited SBDR response sites on Tuesday along with Send Relief president Bryant Wright: to encourage volunteers and help minister to storm survivors.
“I know very well that you guys here are doing ‘chopping cotton’ kind of work and are really working hard,” Barber said to a group of Oklahoma SBDR volunteers at Levy Baptist Church in North Little Rock. “I just want you to know how thankful I am for that and how important it is.”
Southern Baptist volunteers from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas have been clearing trees off homes, affixing temporary roofing to damaged roofs and providing meals to survivors of the deadly tornadoes that touched down in Arkansas as part of a storm system that spun off tornadoes across the nation.
“Paul said that the message he was about proclaiming was to help people to know that Jesus is Lord and to help people to know that Jesus sent us to serve the people who are around us,” Barber said, still addressing the Oklahoma volunteers. “I don’t know anything that lives that out more than Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.”
The Little Rock tornado measured as an EF-3 and cut across multiple residential areas on its 32-mile stampede and left an indelible mark on Spencer’s community. While her home remained standing despite significant damage, neighbors just down the road were not as fortunate—their homes leveled by the storm.
The crew assisting her were with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s SBDR team.
“They are helping me with tree removal and then roof damage,” Spencer said. “So, just getting all that tarping and making sure it’s secure for this new storm that’s supposed to come in. They’re getting the debris out so we can try to move forward.”
Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock opened a City Center in recent years that is designed to be a place to help meet needs in the community, and it became a hub for SBDR, Salvation Army, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and other volunteers coming in to aid survivors.
Tim Griffin, attorney general for the state of Arkansas and a member of Immanuel, spoke briefly with local media.
“There are so many people hurting and in varying degrees,” Griffin said. “Some people, their house is okay, but they don’t have power. There are other people, their gas is off. Some people have no home at all. You can go to where it was, and it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Barber and Wright visited SBDR sites in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Jacksonville before making the trip to Wynne to meet and encourage survivors and the volunteers who have been providing free services similar to what the team did for Spencer.
Curt Neal, a volunteer with Texas Baptist Men (TBM) and a member of Crosspoint Church in McKinney, Texas, has traveled the United States and the world to assist with crisis response, including serving with Send Relief as part of the effort to minister to refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Neal has been working operations with the TBM team stationed at Second Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
“The storm came through, and you’ll have damage in one area,” Neal said. “And then, on both sides, there’s nothing. So, you have very specific areas that you’re working.”
Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, steps in during times of disaster to provide support for SBDR.
“We believe that the best way we can serve communities that have been hit by disasters is through the churches,” Wright said. “So, Send Relief provides resources, coordination and supports the state convention disaster relief as they provide the boots on the ground.”
On Tuesday night into Wednesday, April 5, a new storm system swept across the United States, threatening more severe weather. At least one tornado touched down in Missouri, causing injuries and fatalities.
“There’s somebody in a disaster all the time, and you guys have no idea when that phone is going to ring,” Barber said to the Oklahoma volunteers. “You have no idea when you’re gonna need to set everything down and go get the van…I know the sacrifices that you’ve made to do what you do. You just oughta hear somebody say that I appreciate it.”
Published April 5, 2023