Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force volunteers are wrapping up their assignments in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma and making plans to tackle similar storm damage in the St. Louis, Mo., area.
Jim Didlake, director of Men’s Ministry at the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in Jackson and coordinator of the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force, reported that one team of Mississippi Baptist volunteers remains in the Shawnee, Ok., area — a chainsaw and heavy debris removal team from Covington-Jeff Davis Association.
Didlake estimated that about 30 Mississippi Baptists have cycled through the Oklahoma disaster response since severe weather spawned powerful tornadoes in the Shawnee area on May 19 and the Moore area on May 20. “The last Mississippi team will work through June 7,” he said.
Mississippi Baptist volunteers in Oklahoma were assigned two tasks. Donna Swarts, a member of Goodwater Church, Magee, headed up the Incident Command Team, while John Henry, a member of Briar Hill Church, Florence, coordinated heavy debris removal and chainsaw teams.
HEAVY DEBRIS REMOVAL — Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force volunteers remove heavy debris from the site of one of the massive tornadoes that struck the Shawnee, Ok., area on May 19. (Photo courtesy of David Baldwin)
Didlake said the task force’s mass feeding unit, a fully self-contained eighteen-wheeler capable of preparing thousands of hot meals per day, was not activated because Baptist disaster relief units from Oklahoma and surrounding states were meeting those needs.
Wes White, pastor of Smithville Church in Monroe Association, and a contingent from the church will soon be traveling to Oklahoma to distribute gifts cards to storm victims so basic needs in the devastated areas can be met, Didlake said. Smithville Church and the town of Smithville were destroyed by an EF5 tornado on April 27, 2011.
Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force volunteers will soon be in the St. Louis area in response to a violent May 31 storm front that produced at least three large tornadoes — some with tracks as long as 40-50 miles. Didlake said the Task Force is assembling three teams of at least six people each, trained and certified in chainsaw work and debris removal.
At printing deadline for this issue of The Baptist Record, Benton-Tippah Association had committed one team to the St. Louis effort. The Benton-Tippah Association disaster relief unit has just completed a cleanup operation after a levee on a catch pond in DeSoto County failed and flooded about 20 homes, Didlake said.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are active in seven states responding to damage from floods, tornadoes, and other disasters on the eve of hurricane season, according to information compiled by Baptist Press in Nashville.
WHY THEY DO IT — A cross carved from the trunk of a heavily-damaged tree outside Shawnee, Ok., symbolically marks the area where Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force volunteers have been working to help storm victims. (Photo by David Baldwin)
In addition to the Oklahoma Baptist response and the Mississippi volunteers who are on the scene, Baptist units from Arkansas, California, Iowa, Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Tennessee, and Texas Baptist Men, are participating.
Southern Baptist volunteers also are presently working in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and New York on various disaster responses.
“The depth of work disaster relief volunteers are involved in now is astounding, and they continue to serve.” said Fritz Wilson, executive director for disaster relief at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention in Alpharetta, Ga.
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Wilson said if rain and flood predictions hold, there might be additional needs for response in Midwest states like Iowa.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers and chaplains and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild, and power generation.
Southern Baptists are one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Didlake said financial gifts are being accepted for the multiple disaster relief responses in which Mississippi Baptists are involved. In-kind donations are not being accepted at this time.
Checks should be made payable to MBCB with “Disaster Relief” noted on the memo line, and mailed to Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, Business Office, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. Contributions can also be made online at http://mbcb.org/mission_strategy/men/dr/update.aspx#oktornadoes.
Editor’s note: Baptist Press contributed to this article.