Above: Oklahoma Baptist DR team members who are certified through Sphere Training to serve overseas when international disasters occur.

Sphere Training happened for 24 Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) team members, Feb. 28-March 4, at the Baptist Building.

What is Sphere Training? According to Don Williams, Oklahoma DR director, this training meets the requirements and standards established by the United Nations, as well as many nations, for humanitarian response to international needs.

Don Williams gives instructions during the week of Sphere Training at the Baptist Building.

“For a disaster response, only Sphere-trained organizations will be able to help (internationally),” Williams said. “They have standards on water, sanitation, hygiene, food, shelter and health. Those are all the things that were covered in the 40 hours of work throughout the week of Sphere Training.”

Most of the requirements, Williams said, involve dietary restrictions, which are similar to what DR has experienced with working with the Red Cross. He said there are Sphere-trained individuals currently working with Ukraine refugees.

Sphere Training equips DR team members to be able to help when international disasters occur, but there is more than training that is being planned. Williams said DR will be partnering with Send International, specifically in Southeast Asia, to be the team assigned whenever disasters happen in this region of the world. Countries that Oklahoma Baptist DR have been assigned to help are the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania and Fiji.

“With Sphere Training and going overseas, we have a standard and will adhere a little bit easier to help serve,” Williams said. “But what will make it better is building relationships with these countries.”

There are 42 state Southern Baptist DR ministries that are assigned to 19 international areas. Williams said he asked to partner with the Send International area director in Southeast Asia.

“There are more Oklahoma Baptist missionaries in Southeast Asia than in any other area of the world,” he said. “We will possibly be working with somebody from Oklahoma when we go to these countries.”

With Sphere Training, DR team members will be available to work with Oklahoma Baptist churches in Southeast Asia, and this will involve more than disaster response. Williams plans to be involved with community development in countries like the Philippines, one of the countries more vulnerable to natural disasters due to the probability of typhoons and tsunamis.

“We have a good core of people who are Sphere trained now,” Williams said. “We want to open this up to Oklahoma Baptists and to our churches and allow them to come alongside us as we have the need to go.”

This is a long-term commitment that Williams said will involve planning overseas visits twice a year, helping people with disaster preparedness and building relationships before disasters occur. He also said, with Sphere Training and working with Send International, Oklahoma Baptist DR is now equipped to help churches who want to go serve areas affected by disasters.

Currently, Ohio Baptist DR is working in Poland, helping churches serve people coming from Ukraine. Williams said he got a call from a pastor who wanted to help Ukrainians, and he put him in touch with the Ohio Baptist DR director.

“We need to be trained and equipped and make the connections beforehand,” Williams said, “because, in reality, Ukraine is a major issue right now, but something else is going to happen somewhere else in the world, and DR team members want to be ready to serve.”

Now with 24 DR team members who are Sphere trained, Oklahoma Baptist DR is ready.

“This is a gung-ho group,” Williams said about the newly-trained DR crew. “They are very excited, and they want to know ‘When are we going?’ They are ready to serve and advance the Gospel.”

For more information or to offer a donation, visit okdisasterhelp.org.