The devastation wrought by the storms May 19-20 brings us to our knees. As I have driven through these areas that stretch many miles surrounding Shawnee and Moore, my heart breaks for those who have lost so much. Also, we have had to watch families bury their loved ones whose lives were lost in the storms.
In the midst of this tragedy, I have seen the “Oklahoma Standard” turn into “Oklahoma Strong.” The resolve of Oklahomans to begin again from the rubble is amazing to watch. While I am well aware that not all Oklahomans are people of faith, the strength of the faith community overshadows the tragedy and loss. As I sat in the Governor’s Prayer and Memorial Service at Moore, First, it was clear people of faith are people of hope in the face of the storm. The service was a great reflection that there are deep roots of faith still alive in Oklahoma, and it was one of our proudest moments as a state. What a blessing to have a governor who has deep faith, and is unapologetic in expressing it.
Moments after the first tornado touched down, Sam Porter and our disaster relief teams were at work. Our Baptist churches, as well as many others in the faith community, sprang into action. As I travelled across the path of destruction, my heart soared as I saw the huge effort put forth by local churches, associations and disaster relief volunteers. Many BGCO churches have become centers for the relief effort by simply turning their facilities into centers of love and prayer. In many churches, the buildings have become storage places for food, water, equipment and a myriad of things people need to start the recovery.
People often ask, “What good is it to be part of a denomination? Why not just be independent or nondenominational?” In times like these, the strength of our larger family relationships is made evident. Recently, as I drove through Moore and then to Shawnee and surrounding areas, I saw multiple chainsaw, feeding, shower and laundry units from all across America. These are part of the vast disaster relief system in state conventions. When tragedy strikes, Southern Baptists immediately connect through the coordination of the North American Mission Board. We work together to provide resources, volunteers and heavy equipment capable of serving thousands of people in need. These units all come with trained volunteers who know what and how to best serve those in the throes of loss.
One of the most important aspects of disaster relief are trained chaplains who go out with the teams as they serve families caught in the vortex of the storm. I stopped by the BGCO feeding operation in Shawnee just in time to hear a testimony from a volunteer about how a chaplain had been privileged to lead a 20-year-old to faith in Christ because of this ministry. The young man had been in rebellion for some time, but his heart was softened and open to the Gospel. We serve to show the love of Jesus and to share the Good News of Christ. Both are essential as we touch lives.
Words fail me to express thanks to all who have given financial resources. As of this writing, we are well over $1 million. We have had more than 5,000 donors through our website. One of the blessings has been checks and notes from people in the northeastern part of the United States where our teams served for four months helping after Hurricane Sandy. My heart is full in face of the generosity of Oklahoma Baptists and many beyond who have given so freely.
The efforts will continue for months. We will not overcome in just a few weeks. Many of these folks will be displaced from their homes and ordinary lives for several months. We dare not forget them. Our practice, as Oklahoma disaster relief, is to stay until the job is complete. Be assured—we will.
P. S. I am humbled and grateful for the prayers and kindness shown me as I have been dealing with prostate cancer. Treatment protocols for prostate cancer are rapidly changing. In consultation with my doctors, we have determined to take an “active surveillance” approach. I will have regular tests and once-a-year biopsy. If numbers change, I will have surgery. The good thing is that there is no pain associated with the cancer. Please continue to pray. I cannot tell you what that means to me.