Baptist volunteers en route to Puerto Rico as new storm aims at Gulf

By Brandon Elrod

This weekend (Oct. 8), nearly 70 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers will begin arriving in Puerto Rico to aid in recovery efforts on the island. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) national director for disaster relief, will reach Puerto Rico on Sunday, Oct. 8, to further develop plans for serving those affected by Hurricane Maria.

Teams from North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia will be joined by individuals and smaller groups from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Vermont. Conditions for the volunteers will be rough, and they will be prepared to serve whatever needs await them.

In San Juan, 70 percent of the city is without cell service, and outside the city, cell service is even more scarce. Only around five percent of Puerto Rico has electricity. In these early stages of response, Southern Baptists who serve in Puerto Rico will be trained disaster relief volunteers.

In the long-term, NAMB will, through Send Relief, facilitate partnerships between mainland Southern Baptist churches and churches in Puerto Rico. The goal is to help SBC churches in Puerto Rico become hubs of relief ministry in their communities, so they can bring the gospel to their communities.

“I will be on the island next week to help determine ways that Send Relief can involve untrained volunteers in Puerto Rico,” said David Melber, vice president of Send Relief, “We want to open up every lane possible to send Southern Baptists as well as others into the field to help in Puerto Rico’s time of dire need.”

In the Virgin Islands, the Alabama disaster relief kitchen that had been set to arrive is still in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., awaiting shipment. SBDR has been told that the kitchen will be shipped to arrive as soon as possible.

Southern Baptist leaders from the states Alabama and Florida have been working in the Virgin Islands to put their disaster relief plan into action despite the setbacks.

Tropical Storm Nate, currently circling off the coasts of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, is expected to reach the mid Gulf Coast of the United States over the weekend. While the path and the strength of the storm are yet to be determined, SBDR has started taking inventory of what units are available should a response be needed. Nate is expected to become a hurricane and Gulf Coast states are on full alert.

This hurricane season has been stretching Southern Baptist resources and volunteers thin, but Sam Porter has great faith in the SBDR team. “Our SBDR teams are pretty deep on the bench,” Porter said. “When others are down and cannot go anymore, someone is able and willing to step up and say, ‘put me in coach.’”

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist responses to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey continue. As of Oct. 5, SBDR has seen nearly 400 professions of faith in the weeks since volunteers moved in to serve those affected by Harvey, then Irma. Southern Baptists have served nearly 2.5 million meals and completed over 48,000 clean-up and recovery related jobs.

Despite the progress, volunteers are still needed in Texas and Florida. Texas in particular still has many flood recovery jobs to be done. NAMB, through Send Relief, has been facilitating church-to-church partnerships and connecting volunteers with service opportunities, and state SBDR crews have still been gathering and sending teams to assist the Southern Baptist teams in Texas.

Donations and volunteer sign-ups can be made at as well as through state convention disaster relief teams via the convention’s website.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published October 6, 2017