By Adam Wynn
McDONOUGH — Traditionally, Georgia’s state convention for Baptist Collegiate Ministries features the standard occurrences of worship and games and odd, spirited chanting.
The 2017 convention, annually referred to as Confluence, took place from Friday, September 22 through Sunday, September 24 and featured a historic moment: 542 college students underwent Georgia Baptist Disaster Training all at one time.
“I love the number. I love the youthfulness,” State Director for Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Stuart Lang said. “I’m used to dealing with senior adults, but I love the fact that it was opened up and I’m very appreciative.”
Though the Saturday training was not the single-largest training in Georgia Baptist Mission Board history, falling somewhat short of the 801-person training that currently holds that distinction, it was still an extremely encouraging sight for Lang to see so many young adults energized for this particular brand of Kingdom work.
“This many young people … who genuinely love the Lord and are this genuine about helping, it is overwhelming,” Lang added.
Why get trained?
The main worship center at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church hosted the primary training, but it was the logistical efforts of countless volunteers and GBMB employees in the surrounding halls that made Saturday’s event possible.
A line of students snaked through the corridors at Eagle’s Landing, moving past stations that accepted paperwork, issued more paperwork, and finally took a picture for the required photo identification.
“The reason I signed up to help with disaster relief is because we were able to go to Lousiana last year and do recovery work there,” Kenneth Brock, a student from the University of Georgia, said. “I have family in Florida and south Georgia, as well. It’s just an awesome opportunity that Georgia Baptists are allowing us to go down and help there, as well.”
Tiana Brown, a student at Mercer, has personal connections to this year’s most recent disaster relief efforts, too. Her family in Statesboro, like so many others, saw first-hand the disastrous effects of Hurricane Irma as it rolled over the state.
In fact, seeing the damage that Irma wrought was a major factor in why Brown wanted to help.
“I decided to take part in disaster relief training to help clean up disaster areas that effected areas including my home town,” Brown mentioned.
Disasters like the recent uptick in dangerous hurricanes hitting the United States and North America often bring to light the urgent needs for more volunteers and material assistance.
“It sounds a little cold, but it is very much reality. Having Harvey followed by Irma, and now what’s happened in Puerto Rico, it does have heightened awareness in people’s minds,” Lang admitted.
Getting more helping hands
The week before Confluence, Lang did orientation for a group of 351 adults. That was a number much larger than his usual orientation sessions specifically because of the recent hurricanes.
“We’ve had damage all over the state, but none of it was severe. Sometimes that gets people scratching their head thinking, ‘If the damage was this bad or worse for Harvey, why don’t we have people going?’” Lang acknowledged.
As valuable as the 542 new trainees are for the state, Lang and his teams are always looking for more volunteers. He hopes to be able to provide churches and groups with video of the orientation. That way, they can go through the program without him being present all the time. However, any prospective volunteers will still need to fill out background checks and all the other necessary paperwork.
All of Lang’s events are listed at GBCDisasterRelief.org. There are no more statewide events this year, but there is still plenty of helpful information for those who hope to be trained in the near future.
Human resources are, of course, the most important. Lang and all the GBMB Disaster Relief crews need willing and able servants to answer the call.
“We’re all gifted differently,” Lang admitted, stating that all types of people are needed to help on the front line of disaster relief. “My strength is cleanup and recovery, but I love to eat, so I really like the feeders. I always say that you need to go with your heart. How has God wired you? That’s where you get plugged in.”
After volunteer needs, the next best help for Lang and the GBMB is cash.
“For victims…you can always spend cash,” Lang added.
The main thing to bring
While Lang loves the enthusiasm and swift response from caring Georgians, not all responses are equally helpful. Unsolicited collections of food and materials often lead to wastes of resources and unnecessary efforts.
The one material donation Lang will encourage is Buckets of Care because even if they have a surplus at the time, the buckets are always useful for the future.
“Don’t start collecting things assuming that someone will be able to use it,” Lang pleaded, switching the conversation to promote much-needed Buckets of Care. “I know they have a use, they have a long shelf life. Even if I don’t take them to Texas or Florida now, we can stockpile them up and they’ll be ready for the next flood.”
Volunteers and cash and supplies are great, but the most important thing that Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief brings into a disaster zone is the unmatched hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A large part of Saturday afternoon’s training consisted of a gospel presentation that students could adapt for their own use in the field.
By meeting both spiritual needs and physical needs, Georgia Baptists are able to do far more than most any other group responding en masse to these types of disasters.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Lang said, quoting an old, but powerfully true, cliché regarding sharing the faith while providing necessary services. “It’s indispensable.”
“For us to go in and only present our faith is really empty. But if we meet them at a point of need and show that we care, and exemplify the love of Christ, then it softens hearts and opens minds.”