Baptist leaders: Volunteers still needed for historic Midwest flood relief


By Tobin Perry

Pacific Junction, Iowa, located 25 miles South of Omaha, Neb., on Interstate 29, was hit hard by recent flooding. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders say more volunteers are needed to make headway on relief efforts before summer heat brings more complications. Photo by Nick Burt, Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

DAVENPORT, Iowa (BP) — Five weeks after historic flooding hit the Midwest, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers are working their way through more than 1,400 mud-out requests for homes devastated during the disaster. With tornado season looming and increased volunteer needs anticipated nationwide, SBDR leaders are asking Southern Baptists to consider opportunities to aid flood relief efforts in Nebraska and Iowa.

Sam Porter, national director for SBDR at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), says the timing is critical to saving homes in the impacted region.

“Even if they’re not a part of SBDR, if a church has an organized group or they have some leadership that was a part of disaster relief, I know Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa would welcome them to go up and help us mud out and clean the homes,” Porter said. “When it warms, the homes will be consumed by mold, and they’ll have to destroy the whole house. It’s really urgent to get in and take all of that out of there as soon as we can.”

The devastating floods started in late March after heavy rain and melting snow led to floodwaters 10-feet high in places. Flood conditions continued throughout April. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported the Mississippi River has been above major flood stage around Davenport, Iowa, for a record 39 days this spring.

Farmers have been hit particularly hard by the flooding. In March alone, more than 1 million acres of cropland were ravaged by floods, according to a Reuters report.

Southern Baptists responded immediately to the flooding with multiple state conventions sending teams to help. Porter estimates that Southern Baptists representing 10 to 12 states have participated in the recovery efforts. He says SBDR needs a strong push in the next four weeks to complete as many of the remaining jobs as possible before summer hits.

“The Cooperative Program for Southern Baptists is about more than just money,” said Porter, who served for 19 years as the director of disaster relief in Oklahoma before becoming the SBDR national director. “It’s manifested probably the best in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, where we go to help each other and will stay as long as we’re needed, even when we’re hurting in our own states.”

Currently, SBDR’s ministry to flood survivors is based out of churches in Freemont, Neb., Bellevue, Neb., and Glenwood, Iowa.

Randy Garrett serves as the director of disaster relief for Arkansas Baptists and has been overseeing the Midwest flood work for Southern Baptists. He noted that while trained volunteers are greatly appreciated, anyone is welcome regardless of previous training.

“We can train people through video and on-the-job training,” Garrett said. “We’ll provide volunteers with all the safety equipment they’ll need.”

Garrett said that past experience shows that the number of volunteers declines the further it has been since the disaster. With tornadoes hitting multiple southern states, including Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, he wants to remind Southern Baptists of the needs in the Midwest.

Louisiana Baptists responded to a powerful F3 tornado on April 25 that hit the north-central Louisiana town of Ruston. The tornado killed two people and left heavy damage on the campus of Louisiana Tech University. Last Saturday, about 1,300 Louisiana Tech students volunteered to help with cleanup efforts. Louisiana Baptists and several other organizations helped manage the student efforts.

Porter attended a worship service at Temple Baptist Church in Ruston where several people shared testimonies about how Southern Baptists had been there to help in their time of need.

Garrett emphasized that the SBDR efforts are all built on the foundation of sharing the hope of Jesus in the midst of disaster.

“We’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of people giving their faith to Christ,” Garrett said. “We have some people who have been unbelievable in evangelism and sharing the Word of Christ. It goes hand in hand. We don’t just go into places to fix things. We go there to share Christ.”

For more information about how you or your church can help flood survivors in the Midwest through SBDR, visit NAMB’s directory of state Baptist convention websites here.

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.