First Person: Appreciating Disaster Relief

By Brandon Elrod

As a writer, I hate to use cliché phrases. There are some things in life, however, that can only be described adequately by way of common analogies.

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Michael is one such example.

In the immediate aftermath, numerous people described the devastation in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia and Alabama in terms of warfare—bombs going off and missiles launching into buildings. After traveling to the affected areas and writing an article of my own, these analogies certainly did fit.

Another way I’ve tried to explain it is that visiting the sites was like being on the set of a disaster movie. The damage was so surreal to see that it seemed unreal—as if some director in a chair somewhere could have yelled, “cut,” and everything would go back to normal.

Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers with Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., serve a homeowner affected by Hurricane Michael. NAMB photo by Sara Brockmann.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy, and for thousands of people, the agony of losing loved ones and facing the challenge of rebuilding their livelihoods continues to be an everyday struggle.

Every time a natural disaster hits, however, thousands of Southern Baptists step up to offer help, healing and the hope of the gospel. They don’t seek to be part of the story, but the sacrifices they make and the hardships they endure as they serve are compelling.

In September, I visited Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) sites in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, and when the calendar turned to October, I visited sites in Georgia, Alabama and Florida after Michael.

In Panama City, Fla., I met a Puerto Rican woman named Lyanna, and I was surprised to learn that she had lived through Hurricane Maria’s rampage across the island. After losing so much, she came to the mainland and volunteered with Florida’s SBDR team because the Southern Baptist work in Puerto Rico inspired her.

Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteer Lyanna Torres Torrella, right, survived Hurricane Maria when the storm ravaged Puerto Rico. When she came to the mainland, she decided to serve with SBDR, drawing inspiration from the Southern Baptist work that took place on her home island. NAMB photo by Brandon Elrod.

I encountered other volunteers who had left their own storm-damaged homes and property and traveled with an SBDR team to meet the needs of others who were struggling.

These volunteers dedicate much of their time to help survivors through the aftermath. While offering hot meals, mud-outs and chainsaw work allowed communities to cope with the physical trials, these men and women also attempt to minister to the inevitable emotional and spiritual toll wrought by disaster.

When Southern Baptists show up, they assist people who are fighting to overcome huge temporal, physical obstacles while extending the hope to hurdle eternal, spiritual ones through the gospel.

So, this Sunday, seek to give something to an SBDR volunteer that they never seek of their own accord: a “thank you.” Of course, one of the best ways to show appreciation to our brothers and sisters in disaster relief is to come alongside and participate in the task with them.

There are still people in need. There’s still work to be done in Florida and beyond. You can join the team. To learn more, donate to or find ways to volunteer with SBDR, click here.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published November 9, 2018