An EF5 tornado dropped from the skies five years ago and roared across Oklahoma’s open spaces at 200 mph. It locked on Moore, Okla., then slammed into the modest Oklahoma City suburb filled with middle-class, salt-of-the-earth people. It bulldozed an elementary school. It was over a mile wide and ripped a 17-mile path through the heart of that city. The devastation was comprehensive: 24 people killed, more than 200 injured, and more than $2 billion in damage.
And within hours, Oklahoma and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams swooped in to serve people. Among them were nearly 40 chaplains caring for the emotional and spiritual hurts of people. But the great thing about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers is that every person goes as a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, even if they are running a chain saw.
I believe one of the most indelible memories for me was an NBC News report where news anchor Brian Williams made a comment about “faith-based FEMA,” and correspondent Harry Smith responded, “As you and I have seen in so many different places in this country, if you’re waiting for the government, you’re going to be in for an awful long wait. The Baptist men, they’re going to get it done tomorrow.”
Smith’s statement is an absolutely perfect assessment of the history of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR). SBDR is more than 50 years old while Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. And it isn’t just a history, it’s a legacy. Whether it is mud-out teams following floods, or chain saw crews clearing trees off of houses, or food-service teams preparing thousands of meals for thousands of people who find themselves destitute in a matter of seconds, a legacy for serving has been built on the sore backs and tired feet of SBDR volunteers. Our folks are among the first in and almost always the last out. They stay long after the photo ops have ended and long after the news interest has faded. Our SBDR volunteers are trained, equipped and respected by organizations like FEMA, the Red Cross, and others with whom they work.
That reputation is no different for our Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief (TBDR) teams, which I believe are among the finest out there. I think back to our TBDR volunteers still rebuilding houses six years after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Teams were still serving people in the burned-out Smoky Mountains around Gatlinburg months after others pulled out, and we still have teams serving in the wake of the devastating 2017 hurricanes that rocked Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean.
Several years ago, I visited over 40 local associations asking a simple question along the way: What is the thing that Tennessee Baptists are doing together that makes the biggest difference? Two things always topped the responses: Disaster relief and partnership missions.
That answer thrills my heart because Tennessee was one of the first state conventions involved in disaster relief and the first state convention involved in partnership missions. Both ministries have been carried out through the decades with sustained excellence thanks to an army of committed, fully engaged Tennessee Baptist volunteers.
I personally want to express a sincere, heart-felt thank you for every person who has been a part of either of these great ministries. I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the Kingdom work you’ve done on behalf of all Tennessee Baptists. You have represented us well.
It would be impossible to fully calculate the immeasurable impact SBDR and TBDR have had over the past 40 years. Only God knows the number of souls saved as a result of the gospel being shared with people during a time of their greatest need. Only He knows the hurts that have been comforted by an encouraging word or a heart-felt hug from a DR volunteer. And that’s okay. Our DR volunteers serve because they love Jesus and love people. And we want to celebrate that along with TBDR’s bright future.
If you are a TBDR volunteer, were a TBDR volunteer, want to learn more about TBDR or simply enjoy celebrating with God’s people, I want to personally invite you to the 40th Anniversary celebration scheduled for July 14 at the Missions Mobilization Center in Mount Juliet. The MMC is itself a testimony to God’s working through long-time TBDR volunteers Don and Ann Davis and their desire to see TBDR flourish well into the future. For more about the celebration, call 615-371-7926, or write firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also register online at https://tn.sbcworkspace.com/Pub/Event/Register/55227959.
It’s a joy to be on this journey with you.