It began with no budget, no equipment, minimal experience and, most importantly, practically no organized and trained volunteers.

Oklahoma Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (OSBDR) was organized in 1973, basically because former Gov. Raymond Gary, who served on the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) Board of Directors at the time, was, well, frankly, tired of the fledgling efforts of a few Baptists who had responded to disasters in the Sooner State being overlooked for their attempts to serve others in the Name of Christ.

The need became painfully exposed when on Oct. 11–13, 1973, Oklahoma’s greatest urban rainfall on record occurred. Known as the “Enid flood,” an intense thunderstorm was centered over Enid with rainfall accumulations between 15-20 inches within a 100-square-mile area. About 12 inches fell in three hours, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Enid received 15.68 inches, forcing residents to cut holes in rooftops to reach safety. Nine people died.

With no (BGCO) plan or fund in place for disasters, an appeal was made to churches in the state, who gave more than $25,000, which was divided among all victims (churches and individuals.)

On. Dec. 11, 1973, the BGCO Board of Directors approved a plan for a disaster relief ministry, which was designed to provide financial aid and hot meals for the victims and workers in a disaster. A disaster relief fund was established from Cooperative Program and Edna McMillan Oklahoma State Missions Offering receipts. The plan involved organization on the local church, associational and state convention levels. It included financial aid, immediate emergency assistance, repair/rebuilding as necessary and requested and providing chaplains to minister to spiritual and emotional needs.

The plan was put into place in time for the state’s first major call-out in response to an earthquake in Alaska in 1974. Oklahoma volunteers responded to help re-build churches damaged in the quake.

Since responding to fellow Oklahomans after a flood, OSBDR volunteers have served as the hands and feet of Jesus across Oklahoma and the United States and literally around the world, responding to those in need following a wide variety of natural and man-made disasters. From tornadoes and hurricanes, floods, wildfires and ice storms, earthquakes and tsunamis, explosions and terrorist attacks, OSBDR volunteers have ministered to hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors alike.

They have traveled from coast to coast in the U.S. and have walked amid the ruins and devastation left behind in Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Japan and other places too numerous to list. And, as they have gone, they have shared the love of Christ, prayed and cried with those with whom they served, and left the Word of God in their hands as they returned home. They have made an impact not only on the physical lives of those they have come into contact with, but they also have made an eternal difference in many of their lives as they have shared the Gospel in response to the inevitable question: “Why would you, a stranger, come all this way to help me, someone you don’t even know?”

Since that beginning with literally no assets in 1973, OSBDR has grown over four decades to include a fleet of vehicles that includes a mobile Incident Command Center; a 48-foot, 18-wheeler mobile kitchen; 53-foot refrigerated 18-wheeler for support of the mobile kitchen; a 2-ton truck with an 18-foot box and tailgate lift as an auxiliary support vehicle; three, 3/4-ton club cab pickups; a 16-foot child care trailer equipped with rolling cabinets filled with supplies for children ages birth through age 8; 18 20-foot mobile kitchens housed in associations across the state with an ability to produce 3,000-5,000 meals per day; two BGCO-owned chain saw trailers/units; 18 associational chain saw units; four shower units; a 32-foot laundry unit; two 16-foot mud-out/debris removal units; one 12-foot water purification unit and an 18-foot rebuild trailer.

And, from no volunteers in 1973, OSBDR now has a total of 5,266 trained volunteers, all of whom are trained in feeding, with 1,974 also qualified in chain saw operation; 446 trained shower/laundry unit volunteers; 350 child care volunteers and 322 mud-out/debris removal volunteers. The BGCO also has 257 disaster relief chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board on its rolls.

The BGCO will observe Disaster Relief’s 40th Anniversary at the Convention’s 107th Annual Meeting Nov. 11 at Broken Arrow, First. On the parking lot of the church, convention Messengers and others will be able to visit a huge display of some of OSBDR’s fleet, including its No. 1 kitchen, which can prepare 30,000 meals per day.

Disaster Relief volunteers will be special guests of the Convention, and are asked to “Yellow Out” the church’s worship center on Monday evening, when the anniversary officially will be observed at 7:15 p.m. A special video will be shown covering the group’s first 40 years of existence, and the volunteers will be recognized for their service. DR volunteers who attend also are invited to attend a dinner in their honor at 4:15 p.m. Monday at the Church at Battle Creek, 3025 N. Aspen Ave. in Broken Arrow.