GRACEVILLE (FBW)—In a joint effort between Baptist College of Florida and the Florida Baptist Convention Disaster Relief team, 58 college students were trained in disaster relief last Spring at BCF in Graceville. The training was conducted by FBC Disaster Relief state leaders and adult volunteers equipped to train others in disaster relief work.
After months of conversations that began with a college worker roundtable at The North American Mission Board, a program was discussed to train college students in disaster relief. The meeting included NAMB Disaster Relief staff, state DR leaders, and college representatives including Baptist Collegiate Ministry leaders, mission mobilizers, the director of FBC Disaster Relief Ministries Fritz Wilson, and BCF professor David Coggins.
Months after the meeting Wilson and Coggins developed a program that ultimately was used as a model for training college students. The primary purpose was to engage, prepare, and utilize college students in DR as the next generation of leaders in churches and ministry.
Disaster relief units began rolling onto the BCF campus and setting up operations for the college training event in May. There was a shower unit, a feeding unit, several clean up and recovery units, and heavy equipment. Hands-on experience was designed to include an overnight weekend sleeping on the floor in BCF’s gym, showering in the DR shower unit, and eating and serving in the DR feeding unit. The simulated environment provided students with as much of a disaster “call out” event as possible.
The weekend of the event, tornadoes and storms pounded most of the country, but this did not deter the students or the volunteer trainers from continuing the weekend training. The students had the chance to observe the DR staff as they monitored weather and remained in contact with other states in anticipation of possible “call out” situations.
Since an area of the BCF gym was scheduled to be remodeled, a team of students working with Coggins built a disaster walk through including a flooded home with staged molded walls, unpleasant odors, torn out sheet rock, and debris. The students also constructed rooms that had been hit with tornado or hurricane winds with limbs and debris littered rooms, along with destroyed furnishings and personal belongings. The team arranged for a vehicle with a fallen tree across the top to be placed outside.
The visual devastation was an integral part of the experience for students trying to understand what they would feel and think when entering a disaster area for ministry.
BCF students worked late nights and started early in the mornings helping prepare meals in the feeding unit and receiving training from the trainers. Participants who completed the training earned credentials in feeding unit, clean up and recovery, and were introduced to Operational Stress First Aid (OSFA) as part of the FBC Disaster Relief’s Barnabas Ministry.
“This training went far above expectations,” said BCF student Krystal Brothers. “I learned what DR ministry was about, but more importantly, I learned how I can get involved. I realized something I had heard, but now became real, ‘it’s not about me’, but it is about those we can help.”
According to BCF Professor James Newell the overnight aspect of the event replicated a real experience of leaving the comforts of home to help those in need.
“It was a great event, well organized and very helpful,” he said.
Those sentiments were repeated as students expressed how the experience exceeded their expectations and prepared them for when they are called upon to serve.
FBC Disaster Relief Ministry team leader Fritz Wilson said the collegiate event gave volunteers the opportunity catch the enthusiasm of the college students—and the students some valuable ministry lessons.
“Both groups learned from each other,” he said. “Many of our experienced volunteers were inspired by the students’ willingness to learn as well as their zeal to go out and help people in the name of Jesus.”
FBC Disaster Relief ministry associate Terry Ryan said he was impressed with students’ attention to detail. He noted students weren’t distracted by the rain as they stood under tents learning how to work the feeding unit and they remained attentive during classroom sessions learning unfamiliar concepts in order to be well trained if called upon.
BCF President Thomas Kinchen said the school looks forward to preparing even more students.
“Our Lord’s top priority is disaster relief,” Kinchen said. “He has done it in our individual lives when we were without hope. As such, we dare not sit in our comfort and let those hurting go without relief available to them in Jesus Christ. The attitude and contribution of those volunteers who came to work with our students was contagious.”
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