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Disaster Relief: Preparing, training are essential

Norman Wagoner’s goal is to add 1,000 new “friends” to his personal social network every year—friends who have a heart for missions and a desire to serve both God and their fellow man in times of distress.

Wagoner is state training coordinator for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s disaster relief organization—an army of more than 4,500 trained volunteers in several disciplines. His dream for 2010 is to have more than 5,000 such volunteers on the rolls by the time the final page of the calendar is turned.

Disaster relief is one of four focus areas in the 2010 Edna McMillan Oklahoma State Missions Offering, which has a base goal of $1 million, with a hallelujah goal of $1.05 million. The SMO supports more than 20 crucial ministries in the state. This year, the allocation for disaster relief is $50,000.

Sam Porter, BGCO partnership and volunteer missions specialist, directs the Convention’s disaster relief group, which was organized 37 years ago in 1973. Coincidentally, that’s also the number of years Wagoner has been involved in the ministry, along with the organization’s other top trainer, Gene Jones.

To recruit those new “friends,” Wagoner coordinates dozens of training sessions annually, most connected with associations, but also including two statewide sessions. The next statewide training session is scheduled Oct. 2 at Del City, First Southern.

“ We will have had 17 training sessions this fall,” he explained. “State sessions offer training in all of our ministries—feeding (including water purification), chain saw/recovery, child care, assessment, shower/laundry, mud-out/recovery, chaplaincy and medical—while the associational meetings focus on just the feeding, mud out, chain saw and assessment.”

“Norman and I really try to emphasize associational teams, because on those teams, a smaller in attendance church can participate just as effectively as a larger church,” Porter added. “That comes back to our emphasis of the Cooperative Program (CP) as a national convention. The CP is not just money, it’s churches cooperating together and individuals cooperating together.

“When we send a team anywhere out of state, there are usually several churches represented on that team. There are a few churches that have large teams, but that is the exception, not the rule.

“So, I guess the thing I’m trying to say is every church ought to strive to have somebody involved in disaster relief so at least one person will know what to do when a disaster comes to that community.”

In addition to the hands-on training, the disaster relief Web site ( contains all of the training manuals for the specialties, as well as a Church Preparedness Manual and a Family Preparedness Manual, as well as many other documents individuals may access for information.

“Everything that we do is on our site—every manual is there with information as to what they can do when a disaster hits,” Porter said.

However, to be certified to serve on a disaster relief team, attending training in person is a must.

All of this goes hand in hand with September being National Preparedness Month, of course.

Porter agrees being prepared is the key to anything.

“First, we all need to prepare before the disaster hits. That’s the whole part of Homeland Security and what we do,” he stressed.

“Preparing is the key. What normally happens when a disaster comes is, our phones and e-mail in boxes are jammed with messages from people wanting to do things. But, what they have to understand is we have more than 4,500 volunteers who have already prepared themselves to help by going through training, and they are the ones we call on.

“It’s just like when war comes, you don’t send soldiers into battle without (giving them) some basic training. That’s what we offer; some basic training so people know how to respond and not just react.

“Also, it’s how can you touch the most people?” Wagoner said. “Well, you have to get out into the churches and associations. In that same mode, we said we’re going to do feeding, because that’s a continuous thing. We ask the association units to do six events, plus two programs every year. It’s like some churches do a mission offering just once a year instead of a continuous emphasis. Well, you lose that awareness doing it that way.

“As the units do these eight events or programs, they are working together honing their skills and building team unity. Disaster relief is a ministry to go feed a church of 40 people and go love on them. We try to help them see it’s about learning to serve like Christ did.”

Looking at the SMO amount of $50,000 for disaster relief, Porter acknowledged that it’s only a start, but an important one.

“We make dollars go farther than any other organization that I know of,” he proclaimed. “We know where every dollar goes. Our state missions allocation helps keep equipment running and get people to disasters and be ready to respond.

“But it doesn’t go very far. For example, two years ago, we had hurricanes Gustav and Ike in September. We responded for eight weeks from Sept. 1 to Oct. 28 and we spent $55,000 in those eight weeks. And, that year, we only got $25,000 from the SMO.

“In an average year, we’ll spend from $100,000-$200,000 in equipment maintenance and transportation and the only guaranteed income we have is what we get from the SMO.”

Porter emphasized that every designated dollar donated to disaster relief goes to the specific response for which it was given.

“All of our administrative costs—my salary and my administrative assistant’s salary are paid out of CP funds. The rest is out of pure mission dollars; the SMO and individual donations.

“Donations are usually designated, and we can’t spend those funds on anything else. For instance, donations given for Haiti can’t be spent on vehicle maintenance or domestic responses.”

Porter said the state’s disaster relief organization has grown exponentially and is in great need of a new facility in which to house vehicles and equipment.

“One of the huge needs we have is we still have the same disaster facility we had when we only had 300 trained volunteers, one truck and one trailer. Today, we have more than 4,500 trained volunteers and about 40 vehicles in our fleet.

“It’s kind of like a church that has gone from 300 in attendance to almost 5,000 in the same building. Literally there is no room at the Inn. We also need a larger space of about 2.5 acres.”

The disaster relief barn is currently located at Boys Ranch near Edmond.

As these words were being written, a medical team from Oklahoma was headed to Pakistan to minister to flood victims, despite the obvious dangers involved in such a mission. Porter said only the love of Christ can motivate someone to do such a thing.

“Most believers want to make a significant contribution in their lives to help someone else, but most of them either don’t take the opportunity or they haven’t found an opportunity to do that,” he said. “Disaster relief provides the opportunity for Christians to help their fellow man in a humanitarian way based on Christian principles in such a way they can make an eternal difference in a person’s life in the midst of a disaster without having to know how to teach the Bible or know how to sing or do the normal things in a church. They can serve God with their life skills and their spiritual gifts.

“It’s a God-driven thing. If we are made in the image of God, and we are, then there is a God-given drive in every person’s life to want to make a difference in somebody else’s life.

“I have people literally every week who are not Christians or not Baptist wanting to join Southern Baptist disaster relief because they realize what it does and what it can do, when we still have thousands of Baptists out here who ought to want to be a part of it.

“For instance, we have the only Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief Medical Reserve Corps group registered with Homeland Security. There are literally hundreds of Baptist doctors and nurses in Oklahoma. When bioterrorism hits our state—and it will one day, I believe—we’re going to need them to take care of us within a matter of 72 hours.

“If they would just sign up and be a part of our MRC, their skills and training could make a life saving and eternal difference when the time comes.”

“Again, we have to be prepared. Everybody wants to help when an event happens, but only those who are trained get through the gate to help. That’s how it works—whether it’s locally, nationally or internationally.”

Bob Nigh

Author: Bob Nigh

View more articles by Bob Nigh.

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