Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts endure crisis after crisis

By Brandon Elrod

(ALPHARETTA, Ga.)—In recent months, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) has been diligently responding to both national and local crises across North America: two major hurricanes in the Southeast, wildfires in California, tornados across the United States and even a typhoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“Over the last few months, Southern Baptist volunteers have been responding practically nonstop,” said Sam Porter, national director for disaster relief with the North American Mission Board. “We have seen teams serve as far West as the island of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean to the East coast of the southeastern United States.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have been serving across the world, as far west as the island of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean to the Carolina East Coast of the United States. After several months of crisis, Southern Baptists have continued to send the help of relief efforts and the hope of the gospel. NAMB photo by Sara Brockmann.

The northern California towns of Paradise and Magalia were nearly wiped out by the Camp Fire that began November 8 and lasted until November 25, destroying nearly 14,00 homes and taking at least 85 lives.

Porter and Mike Bivins, SBDR director for California Baptists, have been working to deploy chaplains to minister to residents who lost loved ones and their homes to the flames as they return to survey the damage in person.

“The plan is for SBDR trained chaplains to be there for the next several weeks,” said Porter. “Three churches were spared, and the goal is to see those church facilities serve as refuge centers.”

On the island of Saipan, Typhoon Yutu caused catastrophic damage, making landfall as a Category 5 storm on October 25. As a U.S. territory, the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention includes Saipan within its ministry umbrella.

Darrell McCain, disaster relief director for Hawaii Baptists, was in South Carolina assisting Hurricane Florence recovery efforts when Yutu hit. SBDR teams are expecting to help with long-term rebuild to help churches and residents on the island.

In the Fall of 2018, two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael, made landfall on September 14 and October 16, respectively. Together the storms wrought tens of billions of dollars in damage to residential and commercial property and took the lives of nearly 100 people.

“Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew were both record-setters when they made landfall,” recalled Porter, “but Florence came and trumped both of those in terms of damage and record flooding. Our Southern Baptist volunteers, the ‘gold shirt nation,’ came running.”

Volunteers continue to help North and South Carolina residents repair their homes from damage for several weeks after Florence made landfall.

“There are some who are still taking teams to Florida,” said Porter, “to help work around Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and in Panama City” following the devastation of Hurricane Michael.

NAMB photo by Sara Brockmann

Southern Baptists provided 2.2 million meals following Michael and Florence and helped nearly 7,000 homeowners whose houses were damaged after the storms. During those responses, 549 people professed faith in Jesus Christ.

In recounting various SBDR responses over the last few months, he pointed out the flooding Texas experienced for four straight weeks during the span when Florence and Michael were making landfall. Volunteers from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Colorado sent flood recovery teams to help those communities.

The tornado in Illinois that destroyed 500 structures arrived as a part of a storm system that impacted Oklahoma and Arkansas with storms before devastating the small town of Taylorville, Ill.

Porter thanked volunteers who continued to step up even when fatigue set in during the difficult stretch that lasted over the last several months.

“I cannot say ‘thank you’ enough to the Southern Baptist Convention, the 47,000 churches that support SBDR by providing volunteers and donating funds,” said Porter. “It’s an incredible thing that we don’t accept government funds but are supported by our own Southern Baptist churches.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is among the three largest providers of disaster relief assistance in the United States. Southern Baptist churches, associations and state conventions all partner to mobilize volunteers, resources and equipment to provide services. The North American Mission Board provides national coordination and assistance in larger, multi-state responses.

To learn more about SBDR, donate or find ways to volunteer, visit

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published December 5, 2018