Southern Baptists throughout the Southeast have started responding to a deadly storm system that reportedly claimed the lives of at least 19 people from Georgia to Mississippi over a two-day period this past weekend.
Severe weather, which lasted through Jan 22 in the region, extended into South Carolina and north Florida. According to the Associated Press, 39 possible tornadoes were reported in the Southeast.
Georgia Baptist Mission Board disaster relief leader Stuart Lang says chaplains are heading into the impacted regions of the state today (Jan. 23) as Georgia Baptists begin the process of assessing needs. At least seven people died in tiny Adel, Ga., alone. More lost their lives when a twister hit near Albany.
"There's really not much we can do now because counties are still in search-and-rescue mode," Lang said. "They're still trying to catch their breath and figure out what happened yesterday."
Lang says the first unit will likely not arrive in the area until Tuesday at the earliest. He expects that first unit will probably serve in Albany. It will be several days before the volunteers will be able to serve in Adel, one of the hardest-hit locations in the state, because they must wait for approval by the county government. Currently, there is a curfew in the town.
Lang noted chaplaincy will play a large role in Georgia Baptist's response to the disaster. At least 14 of those who were killed throughout the region were in the state. It will be a wind-damage cleanup, Lang said, which usually means debris cleanup and tree removal.
"Right now we're assessing, we're praying, we're encouraging, we're waiting," he said.
Lang asks Southern Baptists to pray for Georgia residents who have lost loved ones and homes in the storms.
"Pray for opportunities for our disaster relief volunteers to not only help restore order but to share their faith and win people to Jesus," Lang said. "Pray that our churches will be lighthouses in the midst of a dark storm in South Georgia."
Mississippi Southern Baptists have set up a base of operations at Petal Baptist Church in Petal, Miss., outside of Hattiesburg. Forty volunteers are on the ground already providing hope and healing for the region. Mississippi feeding teams are supporting Red Cross efforts and serving through Petal Baptist for a total of 2,500 to 3,000 meals per day.
Don Gann, who directs disaster relief efforts for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, expects Mississippi Baptists to provide meals throughout the week. A team of Louisiana Baptists is also on the way to an impacted region of the state.
Gann noted that William Carey University, a Mississippi Baptist school in Hattiesburg, was hit hard by the storm. Nearly all of its 30 buildings were reported to be damaged. He said that disaster relief teams were available to help the college if needed as well.
"We certainly hope that those impacted by these storms see that Mississippi Baptists and Southern Baptists care about them, are willing to get dirty with them and try to help them out," Gann said.
Mark Wakefield, who directs Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, says his state wasn't impacted as much as Georgia or Mississippi by the storms, but there still are pockets of damage throughout the state. He has heard a report of a retired director of missions in the state whose home was destroyed by the storms.
Disaster relief teams from Alabama's Elmore Baptist Association and the Tuskegee Lee Baptist Association began serving this weekend in local impacted areas.
Wakefield says Alabama Baptist volunteers are standing by and prepared to help if needed by other state Baptist conventions in the region.
Later this week Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders will celebrate 50 years of ministry at a special event in Denton, Texas.
The North American Mission Board 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 ministries.
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is 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.
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.