SBDR leaders keep wary eye on snowmelt flooding

By Joe Conway 

SBDR leaders keep wary eye on snowmelt floodingALPHARETTA, Ga. – When massive storms dump snow accumulations taller than the average person, all of that snowmelt has to go somewhere. Officials in Buffalo, N.Y., anticipate potential floodwaters following the seven feet of snow that fell on some parts of the city through Nov. 21.

Cities across the Northeast are facing similar flood scenarios and the prospect of even more snow. The polar blast, generated by a pacific storm that curved north into the Arctic pushing a cold front, brought freezing temperatures and snowfall to parts of all 48 contiguous states. The New York snow event has also been responsible for 12 weather-related fatalities.

Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) at the North American Mission Board, expects state SBDR teams to handle most of the flood recovery and mudout work generated by the storm. The SBDR team at NAMB is closely monitoring developments.

“The potential for flooding is high in the affected areas that have received from five to seven feet of snow,” said Wilson. “The strength of the Disaster Relief network and the preparation of state organizations like New York and others give us optimism that our state partners will be able to respond to possible flooding.” Wilson said depending on the nature of the event, New York could request assistance from states in the Northeast, but he does not anticipate that this event will call for a national response.

The National Weather Service (NWS) had multiple lake-effect snow warnings in New York, all set to expire Nov. 21. The NWS issued a flood watch for the most heavily affected areas that will not expire until Nov. 26. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, snowmelt typically generates a 10:1 ratio in water accumulation. In the case of the area around Buffalo, seven feet of melting snow would produce almost a foot of water.

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. 

Date Created: 11/21/2014 12:59:00 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus

NAMB hosts Disaster Relief panel discussion 

By Kristen Camp 

NAMB hosts Disaster Relief panel discussionSouthern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) is committed to providing help, healing and hope to disaster survivors across North America. Kevin Ezell, (right) president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), addressed that issue as he hosted a Disaster Relief panel discussion Nov. 20 as part of NAMB’s monthly staff “boot camp.” The purpose of the panel discussion was to highlight how local churches, associations, state conventions and NAMB work together to execute different SBDR efforts. The panel also included (from left) Fritz Wilson, executive director of NAMB Disaster Relief, Jack Noble, Disaster Relief director for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and Phillip Harrington, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Live Oak, Fla. NAMB photo by Susan Whitley

ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Whether it’s a tornado in Oklahoma, a wildfire in Washington or a hurricane in New York, disaster survivors need more than assistance with rebuilding their homes when tragedy strikes. They need help rebuilding their lives. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) is committed to providing help, healing and hope to disaster survivors across North America.  

Many people are aware of what SBDR does in response to these types of tragedies, however many people don’t realize how SBDR works on a deeper level. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), addressed that issue as he hosted a disaster relief panel discussion Nov. 20 as part of NAMB’s monthly staff “boot camp” to give insight into the scope of SBDR.

“Often we are very grateful for what Disaster Relief provides,” said Ezell. “But that’s on a 30,000 foot level, and we never really go below that to see how it works.”

The purpose of the panel discussion was to highlight how local churches, associations, state conventions and NAMB work together to execute different SBDR efforts in the United States and Canada. Representatives from three of these groups participated in the discussion. 

The panel included Phillip Harrington, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Live Oak, Fla., Jack Noble, Disaster Relief director for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), and Fritz Wilson, executive director of NAMB disaster relief.

Harrington first participated in disaster relief efforts in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew struck Florida. His pastor challenged several church members to respond to the needs of the hurricane survivors. Harrington took the initiative to continue working with SBDR by encouraging members of FBC Live Oak to get involved as well.

“Several years ago we had a training session that we hosted and Fritz led where about 400 people showed up from around the state, many of them from our own church. They all received training,” said Harrington, who has pastored at FBC Live Oak for nine years. He said since that training they have viewed Disaster Relief opportunities around them as a tool to catapult them into further participation with SBDR.

Noble said that over the years he has worked with the SBCV to help equip churches in Virginia to train teams that can respond to disasters.

“We introduce [churches] to a concept called Ready Church. It helps them engage in their Jerusalem first … and encourages them to start thinking about how they can minister to the crisis needs in their community, and then we network them to national and international events,” said Noble.

While churches and state conventions concentrate on these local needs, the Disaster Relief team at NAMB coordinates efforts from a national level.

“NAMB is like an air traffic controller,” said Wilson. “We don’t fly the planes per se, but we help direct and make sure everything gets to where it needs to be in order to be strategic and focused.”

NAMB also works on a national level with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army to develop working relationships with these partnering agencies. During the panel discussion, Ezell pointed how Southern Baptists stand out from these organizations by focusing on something bigger than just physically helping disaster survivors.

“We have to connect the ‘help’ with the ‘hope’ of Christ, because that is why we are different than other agencies,” said Ezell.

Keeping this mission in mind, Harrington explained how disaster relief work opens up opportunities to share the gospel with the people affected by tragedies.

“As much as we want to help the lady that has a tree on her house, we also want her to understand that there is healing beyond just the house,” said Harrington. “One of our volunteers said the greatest opportunity was not being able to take the limb off her house, but being able to sit on the porch with the lady afterwards with tears in her eyes and her ask why we’re doing this, and then being able to tell her about Christ.”

To wrap up the discussion, Wilson pointed out how SBDR starts with the financial help from Southern Baptist churches across the country. Through their giving to the Cooperative Program, SBDR can fill Disaster Relief positions on the state and national level, as well as buy the necessary equipment and resources to be able to respond to disasters.

“The thing that we are really trying to get across is that for every disaster, SBDR is there every time just like Red Cross and The Salvation Army and other groups,” said Wilson. “If [Southern Baptists] can give through Southern Baptist circles, we can do more for the Lord than anyone in disaster response.”

Learn more about SBDR at

Kristen Camp writes for the North American Mission Board. 

Date Created: 11/21/2014 11:54:26 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus

Multi-ethnic Miami church plant gets new home in renovated theater

View Captions or Download

By Joni B. Hannigan

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – When the house lights dim in the newly-renovated historic Hollywood, Fla., theater and the spotlight trains on pastor Martin Vargas, a message—not a person—will take center stage. The message: “God knows; He changes lives; there is growth in the truth; and we are fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Vargas, a native of the Dominican Republic, appreciates the vision Hollywood Playhouse had for more than six decades in bringing live theater to its community—but he wants more.

Real Church, or Iglesias Real, is set to share the gospel in Spanish, English and Portuguese—from one of the largest stages in South Florida—and will serve as a hub for church plants.

“I wanted to plant a church that is doctrinally sound and that has authentic Christians,” Vargas said. “If they speak English, fine. If they speak Spanish, fine.”

Reflecting on the meaning of the church, Vargas discovered “Real,” which in Spanish forms an acronym for, “know God, changing lives, growth in the truth and fulfilling the Great Commission.”

When he saw the vintage theater in 2012—a vandalized building with broken skylights—he wasn’t deterred. Vargas saw a gift from God.

Just five years earlier, the theater had undergone a restorative face-lift. A magazine described the 18,000-square-foot facility as a “full-service venue” with recording and dance studios, a design shop, film-editing suites and a closed sound stage.

In 2004, Vargas left a lucrative business to start a church in South Florida. Eight years later, with a passion to move his congregation to where they could have the greatest impact, he prayed about the $1.5 million price tag for the two-acre theater property with its 300-seat auditorium.

The timing was not right and soon the bank, which owned the property, sold it to a Miami man who hoped to re-vamp the declining theater.

“It was hard to compete with cash,” Vargas said.

After a two-year search Vargas led his congregation in a 40 Days of Prayer campaign. On the final day, he got a call. The bank wanted to meet. The man with the cash had been jailed on federal charges.

“That Monday was a divine appointment,” Vargas recalled. “I went to the meeting with my realtor, a member of my church, with the thought that, ‘I’m just a pastor with no money.’ I said, ‘If this is coming from God, I need to see God’s hand clearly.’”

Vargas could not believe what he heard at the meeting. The bank would lower the selling price to $1.2 million and pay for the installation of new electrical wiring, 17 brand new air conditioning units and a new roof. The terms came with a “good faith” agreement to wait on part of the down payment and close in 90 days.

The only big expense the banker warned Vargas about was a need to purchase theater seats. At that point, Vargas started smiling. A local synagogue had offered him 300 seats they no longer needed—just in case.

“The banker asked me if I believed in fate. I said, ‘No sir, I believe in God,’” Vargas remembers telling him. “Only God could do that.”

“I left the building that day with the confidence that the Lord was giving this property to us,” Vargas said.

With just three months to raise a quarter of a million dollars, Vargas, and his son, Homer, who will lead the English-speaking congregation at Real, started a Nehemiah fundraising campaign. Sacrificial pledges and commitments poured in—some from believers from as far away as Bolivia and Nicaragua.

The bank called and moved the closing date up to June 26. They told Vargas to bring whatever he had in his hands. He still needed about $70K.

A local restaurant owner gave a large donation. A church member drove by and handed him a check. A BBQ yielded several thousand dollars. Meanwhile renovations began, with members providing skilled labor to return the theater to its former luster.

Send North America: Miami city missionary Alex Comesañas offered to help. He organized a mission team from the Suwanee Baptist Association in the Florida Panhandle to assist through the North American Mission Board’s Send North America strategy.

The Suwanee team was “so impressed,” Comesañsas said, they gave Vargas a check for $6,000 on the spot.

It was the final amount needed to complete the down payment. Construction should be complete by the end of 2014 and the church plans to start meeting in the theater in early 2015.

“This has been a journey of faith and miracles,” Vargas said. “When you don’t have a problem, you don’t see miracles. In every situation, we find difficulties and possibilities. God will find a way.”

Learn more about Send North America: Miami and how you can become involved at

Joni B. Hannigan, a freelance writer based in Houston, writes for the North American Mission Board. 

Date Created: 11/20/2014 6:09:43 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus

Terms of Use

  • We strive to maintain an atmosphere of free and open discussion, but comments are moderated.
  • Comments must be signed by your full name. If you log in through Twitter or Yahoo please include your full name at the end of your comment. Anonymous comments will not be published.
  • Comments containing profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate content will be edited or rejected at the sole discretion of the North American Mission Board. Comments are the responsibility of their authors and do not represent the position of NAMB.