A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteer from Alabama removes a downed tree after a tornado struck Beauregard, Alabama on March 3. The disaster was one of many SBDR volunteers responded to in 2019. Sunday, Nov. 10, is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday, a day for Southern Baptist to recognize the efforts of SBDR volunteers. ALABAMA BAPTIST CONVENTION/Special
By Tobin Perry
FORT GIBSON, Okla. (BP) — It has been nearly 18 years since the darkest day of Lonnie Rowan’s life. On Dec. 31, 2001, Rowan fell into a brush fire on his Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma property. With burns over 35 percent of his body, doctors gave him a 1 percent chance to live.
God’s odds were much better.
Although Rowan had one leg amputated below the knee and the other leg amputated above the knee, he beat all the other medical expectations. The doctors said he’d spend four months in the burn center. He spent two. They told him it would take him two-and-a-half years to walk. He was walking in less than seven months and back at work in eight.
“The hospital in Tulsa tagged me as their ‘Miracle Man,’ Rowan said.
Today, Rowan is still defying the odds, now as a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteer. A team leader – or blue hat – on a local chainsaw team, he has been involved in a number of deployments from his home state of Oklahoma to Texas, Florida, and Louisiana.
“Lonnie is the kind of servant-leader every state director wants to have on their SBDR team!” said Don Williams, the SBDR director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “Lonnie typifies Southern Baptists who put Christ’s call ahead of their personal comfort, to see God glorified and lives changed by the power of the Gospel.”
Georgia Baptists part of a greater effort
Rowan is just one of thousands of volunteers who have served with SBDR so far in 2019. Volunteers have given nearly 400,000 hours of service through the ministry. Those volunteers have shared the Gospel close to 4,000 times, which has led to 840 professions of faith. This Sunday, Nov. 10, SBC churches will honor the service of these volunteers as part of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Appreciation Sunday.
Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief has been part of that response. For 2019 so far, GBDR has recorded 617 volunteer days that included the preparation of 425 meals, 55 completed mud-out jobs, 49 Gospel presentations, and three professions of faith. Those trips also required pressure washing, mold remediations, tear out/repair jobs, tarping roofs, providing childcare, and even providing showers and clean laundry.
Such work reminds Georgia Baptists of their part in a greater relief effort, said state GBDR director Stuart Lang.
“We respond strategically within the greater SBC DR family,” he said. [This year] that meant helping people in Arkansas and Texas at a time when our GBC churches had no idea those people needed help.
“When the media covers a major disaster, people want to respond – rightfully so – because they are emotionally stirred to do so. We certainly feel those same emotions. But we work within a system that provides collaboration with our partners for disaster relief and other state DR ministries.”
Key to the ministry
Some SBC churches will be providing a first-hand look at DR work this Sunday with feeding units setting up in church parking lots. In recent years, it has become customary for Georgia Baptist DR feeding units to provide the meals during a large gathering such as GO Georgia. During worship services this week, churches can also recognize volunteers while allowing volunteers to share their stories of ministry on the front lines.
“The key to this ministry is the volunteers themselves,” said SBDR National Director Sam Porter of the North American Mission Board. “Lots of them have some great skills. Most of them just have a willing heart. They work hard, and they’re faithful.”
In its 51 years of existence, SBDR has become the third-largest disaster relief response team in the nation. SBDR is a network of state-based volunteer teams that deploy worldwide when disaster strikes. NAMB provides national coordination and assistance in larger, multi-state responses.
“I want to give a special word of thanks and appreciation to every volunteer, church, association, and state Baptist convention that plays a part in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” NAMB president Kevin Ezell said. “What an incredible example of how our family joins together to meet needs and – most importantly– share Christ.”
‘The year of the flood’
Porter notes that the last two years have tested the faithfulness of SBDR volunteers because of the intensity of the needs from so many long-term disaster responses. SBDR leaders have called 2019 “the year of the flood” because teams have been involved in flood relief nonstop since February when massive floods hit Mississippi and Tennessee.
Oklahoma and Texas both had record numbers of tornadoes. Other states, notably Alabama, experienced severe tornadoes as well. Tropical Storm Imelda, one of the wettest tropical storms on record, hit southeast Texas in September, engaging an area that had been hit two years earlier by Hurricane Harvey.
SBDR is also in the process of partnering with Bahama Baptist churches to repair churches following Hurricane Dorian’s early September strike.
Porter said SBDR realizes the ministry is in a critical period of generational change, as Southern Baptist leaders seek to engage younger people in the work.
“I’d encourage more – whether it’s one day or two days, whatever you can give,” Rowan said. “Through your work and effort, you can help people in need.”
Lang echoes that sentiment. And while the physical work is an obvious matter, the spiritual cannot be overlooked.
“Disaster Relief is important because of the huge evangelistic effect. After Hurricane Michael, one person was saved out of every six times the Gospel was presented! Disaster Relief is important because it represents the heart of Southern Baptists more than any other ministry I know of.
“It brings people of faith, people of diversity, together for the common purpose of sharing and serving Christ during times of crisis. Disaster Relief is important because it’s difficult to argue when you’re pulling limbs or stirring beans. It gives us a wonderful opportunity to present a positive witness for Jesus.”
Click here for more information about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Index editor Scott Barkley contributed to this report.