I don’t know when or where the group hug came into vogue, but it seems like you see it when groups get together or maybe on the television. There are funny group hugs that take place. There are weird group hugs that probably take place. A group hug is when more than two people meet up and they embrace, maybe just putting their arms around each other’s shoulders. It could be five or ten people. Let’s have a group hug before we start or before we go or whatever. I started studying the group hug and discovered in the Guinness Book of World Records that the largest group hug involved 10,554 people. It happened in Ontario, Canada. I don’t know what brought it on, but that’s a bunch of folks to be involved in a hugging.
Recently I received texts, emails, and voice mails from my fellow state Baptist convention executive directors to whom Mississippi Baptists sent some disaster relief money for the devastation they recently experienced in their states with Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Their state Baptist conventions were trying to help millions of people. Every one of the communications from those executive directors was a message of thanks and appreciation for the gifts they had received from Mississippi Baptists to help with their disasters.
These storms that hit the Southeast in 2018 were huge and destructive, for sure. Every one of the states we have helped and are helping experienced destruction of churches and homes and businesses. These leaders of Baptist conventions in the four states we helped wanted to say a huge thank you to all of Mississippi Baptists for what they said were our thoughtfulness and generosity in helping them.
One of the directors called last week during a session of our Mississippi Baptist Convention annual meeting. At the time my phone, while on silent, began vibrating. I realized somebody was urgently trying to get in touch with me, but I didn’t look at the number and I didn’t see a name. I took my phone and tapped the “answer” button and let whoever it was listen to what was going on in the convention. One of the great choirs that was singing at the convention was in full voice and beautiful inspiration as I just held the phone and let whoever it was listen to the choir singing.
Eventually, the person hung up. I put my phone back in my pocket, only to find out later there was a voice mail. It was a friend of mine who said, “I was calling to thank you for the check that was received from the Mississippi Baptist Convention for our disaster relief efforts here, and it sounds like you are probably in session as a convention right now!” Well, we were, and I wasn’t able to respond while I was sitting there in the service. All of these state leaders were just overboard with thanks and appreciation for you and our Mississippi Baptist Convention for sending help.
What we sent was money that had been approved by the MBC Executive Committee to take out of the operating fund of our convention to express our care and support for these damaged states. We sent checks to four state Baptist conventions: $250,000 to North Carolina, $250,000 to South Carolina, $250,000 to Georgia, and $250,000 to Florida. For the mathematicians out there, it doesn’t take long to figure out those are a lot of dollars.
The amazing and wonderful thing is that these dollars were not Cooperative Program dollars. The dollars we sent had been accumulated from investments and put us in a position to say that we want to give and we want to help, and a million dollars was sent. The recipients were overwhelmed. The operating fund of the Mississippi Baptist Convention simply provides some financial cushion, as checks are constantly being sent to our institutions, agencies, entities, and missions around the world.
Here is what I saw taking place over a few days after Mississippi Baptists expressed their care for our hurting brothers and sisters. It was an effort and a group hug. It was hundreds of thousands of Mississippi Baptists reaching their arms around the millions of hurting people in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to say to them that we are there with you and we are there for you. Of all people on earth who ought to understand how much this means, we should because Mississippi has had its fair share of storms. Two of the largest hurricanes ever recorded have hit our coast. Tornadoes, ice storms, and floods have come our way and people around the nation have responded time after time to say to us that they care about us and want to help us. They have sent far more to us than the amount we sent the other day to help these other states.
We have been the recipients oftentimes of disaster relief dollars. Today, we have been the recipient of the reaching out with a group hug to say thank you, thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful for you. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that was so damaging to our state as well as to Louisiana and Alabama, people literally around the world got involved in sending love and support to us. Through the disaster relief for the folks across our coast, it came through the Mississippi Baptist Convention, it exceeded over 20 million dollars that was given so that our folks could strive to be restored.
We knew the love and warmth of people caring about us and about our state. Now, many years later, we are involved to say we care and we join in with hundreds of thousands in our group hug. Our folks are not only sending money, we have been involved in the total disaster response in sending mass feeding units and chainsaw teams that have participated from the beginning. Some in North Carolina, some in Georgia, and some were sent to Florida. What a great thing to have the privilege of seeing lives changed and blessed and hope given because of the care of people we may never have seen. Thank you, Mississippi Baptists, from the top of our state crisscrossed all the way to the lower part, thank you for being gracious in giving. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to touch those lives that have been broken and bewildered to help them know there are people who care. That’s you, and I thank you. We will reach out beyond windows and walls and have a great, emotional hug to say it’s wonderful to know there are people who care about you who may not even know you. When it comes to disasters, we are in it — not alone but together.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.