>> by Bob Nigh Managing Editor
Support in the form of monetary donations—which totaled $1.2 million as of May 30—and letters of well-wishes promising to uphold the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) in prayer have poured in from more than 5,300 people since the state was hit by two super storms May 19-20.
“I am so thankful and proud of our Baptist family in the way they have responded to the aftermath of the tornadoes,” said Anthony L. Jordan, BGCO executive director-treasurer. “Our local churches have become havens of love, prayer and ministry. Baptist disaster relief has set the pace of recovery efforts in serving those traumatized by these events, and the generosity of people is overwhelming.”
“The generosity and outpouring of concern for those affected has been both overwhelming and humbling. It wouldn’t surprise me that by the time we have received the last donation for the tornado victims that more than 10,000 different individuals, churches and businesses will have donated to assist the disaster relief effort,” said Marty Harkey, BGCO chief development officer.
“Waitresses have pooled and donated their tips; communities have held events selling hotdogs and soda and donated the proceeds. People have offered help from every area of North America. To date, the farthest donation has come from Incheon, South Korea. It has been an incredible journey to watch the hand of the Lord work though individuals, churches and businesses to help the victims of the recent tornado devastation in Oklahoma.
“And through every monetary gift, you can hear the heartbeat of sincere concern for those who have been injured, displaced and especially those who have lost loved ones. They say, ‘I may not be able to come and help, but I can do this,’ or, ‘that could have been our community.’ Some are speechless and simply say ‘We are praying for you all.’ God bless the thousands who have come alongside us with their donations for disaster relief to help these in their hour of greatest need.”
Also as of May 29, more than 500 Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers responding to huge May 19-20 tornadoes in Oklahoma had prepared 35,125 meals, provided 229 showers, done 636 loads of laundry, seen 11 professions of faith in Jesus Christ result from 66 gospel presentations, made 1,270 ministry contacts, distributed 313 Bibles and completed 162 requests for assistance.
In addition on that day, 41 chaplains were ministering to victims of the storms, and Cornerstone Indian church helped a young couple look for anything of value in the Little Axe area.
A tornado hit Shawnee on May 19, killing two. Another twister raced through Edmond, Arcadia, Luther and Carney. Two dozen fatalities were recorded from an EF5 twister that struck Newcastle, south Oklahoma City and Moore a day later. Other May 20 storms hit Avant, Talala and Quapah.
Southern Baptist volunteers have ministered to the practical and spiritual needs of Oklahoma residents by removing fallen trees and other debris, searching for personal items, putting tarp on roofs and counseling survivors-among other tasks. Southern Baptists from nine state conventions have participated in the effort—Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.
“In addition to feeding victims of the storms and our volunteers, we prepare all the meals for the American Red Cross and Salvation Army,” said Sam Porter, BGCO disaster relief director. “Also, the need during the Memorial Day holiday weekend doubled with 20,000 meals needed.”
Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief teams have so far supplied about 140 skilled volunteers each day and expected around 250 over the holiday weekend, all with specialized skills, including electricians, cooks and heavy machinery operators.
“We are so blessed to have so many volunteers who care about helping others, not only from Oklahoma, but also from the entire nation as well” Porter said. “We’re expecting 20 Southern Baptist groups from at least 12 other states to come alongside the large number of Oklahoma Baptists already serving. The goal now is to help residents and homeowners clear their lots in preparation for rebuilding efforts.”
In addition to the physical labor, Oklahoma Baptist chaplains are providing spiritual comfort to victims still recovering with the emotional trauma and devastation. Chaplains were on the ground after the storm helping families whose children were at the devastated schools.
“The Oklahoma spirit can be seen throughout all the outpouring of prayers, time, effort and gifts given by neighbors and strangers alike,” Porter said. “This is true not only for Moore, but also the other cities hit by storms the day before.”
More than 60 Oklahoma Baptist volunteers are still in Shawnee and surrounding areas assisting with recovery efforts there, including a mobile command center, chaplains, four chainsaw teams clearing debris and trees from properties and a mobile feeding unit that is supplying meals for volunteers and victims for a 30-mile radius in Prague, Carney and Little Axe.
Meanwhile, 80 volunteers from Arkansas and Texas were working alongside the Oklahoma volunteers. At that time, the Oklahoma SBDR mobile kitchen had prepared more than 32,000 meals in the area.
“While Moore is certainly the center of the devastation, other communities hit the day before still need quite a bit of help,” Porter said. “We are blessed to have the opportunity to help all Oklahomans affected by the storms.”
Oklahoma Baptist University offered transitional housing in Agee Residence Center for those who lost or sustained damage to their homes. Up to 350 beds were available through May 29 when the rooms were needed to be vacated for previously contracted summer camps. OBU also donated the use of two laptop computers for the BGCO Incident Command Center at Moore, First.
To provide further support, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) deployed one of its two mobile Incident Command Centers, two trucks with bottled water, roofing tarp and other essentials for the initial response.