Laypeople: the hands and feet of SBC disaster relief
WHEN I entered vocational ministry nearly 30 years ago, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.
Up until becoming a program editor at the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission, I had worked as a reporter, photographer and news editor of weekly and daily non-religious newspapers.
The Brotherhood, which was located in midtown Memphis, Tenn., on Poplar Avenue, was a world apart from the newsrooms that had been my professional home up to that point.
While the writing, editing and photography duties were certainly familiar, denominational communications was a very different environment.
Having been a Southern Baptist all my life, I thought I knew more than I actually did about the Southern Baptist Convention program, and in particular, Brotherhood work.
I was an RA (Royal Ambassador), and my dad – to the best of my knowledge – was a part of Brotherhood in our church through Baptist Men. I recall him and the other men of our church hosting men’s breakfasts, helping those in need at church and volunteering in a number of Brotherhood projects such as clearing widows’ yards of storm debris, as well as a number of other projects through the year.
But the Brotherhood was so much more, I was soon to learn.
The Brotherhood Commission was essentially a publishing house that produced materials and programs to support men and boys mission education in the Southern Baptist church, with a focus on equipping laypeople.
Brotherhood work began as a national organization among Southern Baptists in 1907 in Richmond, Va., as the Layman’s Missionary Movement. The name was changed in 1926 to the Baptist Brotherhood of the South. In 1938 its headquarters were moved to Memphis, Tenn., and in 1950 it assumed its final name, the Brotherhood Commission.
Within a few months of my arrival at the Brotherhood, I was “baptized by fire” so to speak when I was asked to serve as off site communications coordinator for Southern Baptist disaster relief (DR) response to the devastation of Hurricane Hugo.
After ravaging Guadeloupe and St. Croix as a Category 4 hurricane, Hugo slammed Puerto Rico as a Category 3 hurricane before making landfall just north of Charleston, S.C., on Isle of Palms on Sept. 22, 1989.
In South Carolina, 27 died as a result of Hugo and 100,000 were left homeless, making it the most damaging hurricane ever recorded in the U.S. at the time.
It was also the largest Southern Baptist DR response ever at the time, and I was assigned with coordinating where and when units were deployed.
After all was said and done, every available Southern Baptist DR unit across the country was deployed following Hugo, which was a first for the denomination.
It was an intense and exhausting time, but what I witnessed firsthand of DR leaders and volunteers left a lasting impression on my life. They were people who cared deeply about helping others in dire circumstances, asking nothing in return. In addition to providing a “cup of cold water in Jesus’ name,” DR volunteers offered to share the saving knowledge of their Lord and Savior with every meal provided, blanket given out, tree cleared or house cleared of mud and debris from floodwater.
Most volunteers serving in Southern Baptist DR aren’t ministers, but simply laymen and women willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world.
I’ll have to admit that, after Hugo and after what I participated in and what I witnessed, it was hard not to stand a bit taller and be a bit more proud to be a Southern Baptist.
I made lifelong friends as a result of Hugo, and I can’t help but wonder all these many years later how eternity was impacted because of the extraordinary work that took place in Hugo’s aftermath – just like what is happening now in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which also hit South Carolina.
Consider pausing and saying a prayer for volunteers as they continue the legacy of faith of our great denomination to those who so desperately need to hear.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the ABN.