The Tennessee Baptist Convention, the Woman's Missionary Union and Southern Baptists serving in local government are among those providing aid in the wake of wildfires that killed at least 14 people in and around Gatlinburg on Nov. 28.
But TBC disaster relief officials are urging those wishing to volunteer to be patient.
TBC Executive Director Randy Davis wrote in a Dec. 1 open letter to Tennessee Baptists that "Tennessee Baptist Mission Board missionaries were able to get to the sites of three of our Tennessee Baptist churches, ministering to pastors while their destroyed buildings still smoldered."
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief leaders have presented checks for short-term relief to two Gatlinburg congregations whose buildings sustained major damage: Roaring Fork Baptist Church and First Baptist Church, the Baptist and Reflector newsjournal reported. A third congregation that sustained major damage to its facilities, Banner Baptist Church, also was slated to receive funds.
The largest newspapers in both Knoxville and Nashville published a report Dec. 4 on Roaring Fork's first worship service after fire destroyed both of its buildings.
Roaring Fork Pastor Kim McCroskey told church members assembled at a local Baptist camp facility, "We're God's church. Fire couldn't take that away. Fire can't take our resolve away. I'm weak in the knees and overwhelmed with grief about what's happened, but I'm also overwhelmed with joy about seeing all of you here today," Knoxville's News Sentinel and Nashville's Tennessean reported.
Although media reports indicate some 1,684 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fires and at least 134 people have been injured, TBC DR officials are urging those wishing to volunteer to be patient.
"We know there are people eager to come" to Gatlinburg to help, TBC Disaster Relief Specialist Wes Jones told the Baptist and Reflector. "But until residents are allowed to return to their homes and damages are assessed, there is little that can be done."
A separate Baptist and Reflector article listed "wait" among the best ways Baptists can help fire victims.
"Yes wait," the Baptist and Reflector stated. "A needs assessment can't be done until after first responders have cleared the area. It takes several days to identify and prioritize how best to use available volunteers. Help arriving too early often can't be administered."
Other avenues to provide help include prayer and participation in DR training events. Volunteers will be needed in fire-stricken areas for months, the Baptist and Reflector reported.
When it comes to giving, Davis reported more than $20,000 in special gifts to Tennessee Baptist DR efforts Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
Another source of relief money is National WMU and the WMU Foundation, whose HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund awarded a $5,000 grant to help meet immediate physical needs of local residents who lost their homes.
The grant will be administered through the local Sevier County Associational WMU and Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries, according to a WMU news release.
"Many have been affected by the horrific fires with the loss of their homes and some with their life," National WMU President Linda Cooper said. "This touches our heart. We at WMU are thankful to help through our HEART Fund and our prayers. May He magnify our efforts as we attempt to minister to those affected."
Among local Southern Baptists serving in government leadership are Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Mayor David Wear, a member of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn.; Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle, a member of First Baptist Gatlinburg; and Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner, also a First Baptist Gatlinburg member.
"If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg," Werner said during a Nov. 30 press conference, "come back and visit us."
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.