First Person: Florida’s Disaster Relief teams ready to bring ‘Help, Healing and Hope’
May 28, 2012
By FRITZ WILSON

WILSON
 Hurricane season 1992 was predicted to be a below average year for storms. That year on Aug. 24 Hurricane Andrew made landfall in south Florida and for the survivors of that storm, the year with only one major hurricane became a tragic and heart-breaking storm season for victims and volunteer responders alike.

Following the storm, the Florida Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Ministry, armed with approximately 300 trained volunteers and one mobile kitchen, did what we do best. We helped people in their time of need—all in the name of Jesus Christ. At that time, the average Florida Baptist church member had no idea that such a young and growing ministry even existed. 

Fast forward to 2012. With over 6,000 trained volunteers on our active roster, Florida’s disaster relief workers are ready to utilize over 120 response units and pieces of heavy equipment at our disposal. These volunteers perform tasks ranging from food preparation to debris removal, from child care services to chaplaincy ministries. 

Today, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the largest, most versatile, most respected disaster response organizations in the State of Florida’s emergency network. 

However, one thing has not changed. The average person sitting in a Florida Baptist pew this weekend has no idea the ministry even exists. If they have heard of Disaster Relief, they do not really grasp the size, scope and reach of Florida Baptists’ work. 

PRAYER Florida Baptist volunteers from Ocala pray with North Carolina residents Maria, Flora and Eduadvo Salas after sawing downed trees from their yard following Hurricane Irene in 2011. FBC photo by Ken Touchton
 Since 1992, disaster relief teams coordinated by the Florida Baptist Convention have responded to more than 100 disasters, yet only 19 were hurricanes. Survivors of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, ice storms, tsunamis and an act of terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001 have welcomed Florida Baptists as the “people in the yellow shirts” who bring “Help, Healing and Hope” during their time of crisis.

Imagine if your church membership had increased by 2,000 percent in 20 years as has the network of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief. The monetary needs of such growth would be staggering to your congregation. Florida Baptist Disaster Relief has relied on traditional funding sources through the SBC Cooperative Program, the Maguire State Mission Offering and direct donations in the aftermath of a catastrophe. 

When faced with the enormity of destruction after Hurricane Andrew, John Sullivan, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, led by saying that we would respond and have faith that the funding would follow. And we have. We have continued to respond to needs with the confidence that Florida Baptists and Southern Baptists would give to support our work. 

We never want to get to the place where ministry is delayed until financial donations are received. Nonetheless, over recent years we have seen a significant decline in the number of Florida Baptists who give through traditional methods after a disaster strikes. Some of this may be attributed to a poor economy, but it also may be because many Florida Baptists do not think about us as a primary response organization. They choose to fund other groups rather than their own faith-based disaster relief ministry. 

So when the next disaster strikes, consider that by giving to the Disaster Relief Ministry through your local Florida Baptist church, you join hands with other Southern Baptist churches to respond to disasters in your community, state, country and around the world, to bring “Help, Healing and Hope” to people in crisis. 

All monies given after a disaster strikes are used not for salaries, but to secure supplies or equipment to be used in the response and relief efforts. Because of this, you can give with confidence that your donation will be used effectively. 

If Florida Baptists would give a portion of the gifts they donate to other relief organizations throughout the year through the Florida Baptist Convention, we could double or perhaps triple the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief ministry we provide to others. Your gifts directly increase our ability to reach people with a helping hand and share with them the hope found in Jesus Christ—which is why we do what we do.

Wilson is team strategist for the Disaster Relief and Recovery Ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention.

To learn more about Florida Baptist Disaster Relief and how you can become involved and make a donation for the deployment of volunteers, go to  www.flbaptistdisaster.org.

 

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