By Tobin Perry
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)—Think back on the most significant U.S. disasters of the past 30 years: Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Andrew, the Midwest Floods of 1993, the Northridge Earthquake, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Harvey.
Mickey Caison has represented Southern Baptists at each of them. As the national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for most of the past 23 years, he has led teams all around the world to share the love of Christ during some of the most difficult days in recent memory.
“I had the greatest job in SBC life,” Caison said. “I fell in love with seeing God work in people’s lives. I couldn’t get away from it. I wanted to be there. It’s so powerful to watch.”
Caison officially retired from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as national director of SBDR at the end of August, but he is currently in Houston, still serving as part of the Southern Baptist response to Hurricane Harvey. Caison was the last remaining staff member who transitioned from the Brotherhood Commission to NAMB when the SBC entity was formed in 1997.
Caison can see roots that led him to SBDR all the way back to his childhood. He remembers as a 5-year-old watching his father’s grocery store burn down. As a 12-year-old, he went with his brother-in-law, a police officer, to a wreck where three people were killed and two others were trapped in the car. A few years later, his best friend was killed riding a bicycle in front of his father’s business.
“As I put all of those things together, I realized God implanted in me a desire to help people,” Caison said. “I saw tragedies; I saw horror; I saw grief. As a child, even the deaths of my grandmothers played into that. It fostered in me a desire to never be in a position where I couldn’t help other people. When disaster relief came along, it was only a natural fit. I see that God prepared me for it all of my life. Those events drove me to care about and to help people, and in that context to be able to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s ultimately the greatest hope, the only hope we have.”
Caison, then a South Carolina pastor, first became aware of SBDR while attending the 1986 Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta. He remembers going through a mobile DR unit set up by Alabama Baptists at the convention.
But it wasn’t until four years later that Caison saw firsthand the impact Southern Baptists have in disaster situations. He had been working with local emergency services when Hurricane Hugo hit the area. After seeing the extent of the damage in person, Caison called the South Carolina Baptist Convention and told them his community needed help. Trucks were already on the way.
For nine months, SBDR volunteers served Caison’s community and helped it get back on its feet. His church (and the local fire department) fed and housed the volunteers. The church raised about $260,000 to help local families impacted by the disaster.
“We fell into that opportunity to care and love on people beyond the physical, even into the spiritual realm,” Caison said. “He showed me up close and personal what can happen when you tie the command to ‘go and make disciples’ with the command to care for people.”
Caison was hooked. His church worked with the South Carolina Baptist Convention to create the first feeding unit in South Carolina. In August of 1992, Caison and a team from his church took the feeding unit to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. They hoped to serve 1,500 meals a day. The team stayed in Florida for six weeks and served 15,000 meals a day.
In 1994, after leading several disaster responses when full-time staff weren’t available, the SBC Brotherhood Commission asked Caison to become the national director of SBDR.
Caison oversaw one of the most significant innovations in disaster relief a few years later when SBDR began deploying chaplains during 9/11. Caison had seen the value of chaplains during the Southern Baptist response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Southern Baptist chaplains in the police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations had responded powerfully to the spiritual needs in the aftermath. When 9/11 hit, Caison called Sam Porter, then the director of Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief and now NAMB’s new national director of SBDR, and asked him to bring some of the chaplains that had helped at Oklahoma City.
“I saw those chaplains walking the streets in downtown Manhattan, going up to those makeshift memorials, and being in the morgue and at Ground Zero with the cops and the fireman and all,” Caison said. “It was so critical for us to have the chaplains with us to deal with the immense spiritual needs that were there. I knew they needed to be a big part of our future.”
Caison also led SBDR’s efforts in its largest deployment in history after Hurricane Katrina. Southern Baptists served more than 15 million meals in New Orleans and southern Mississippi after the hurricane. SBDR also spent five years helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the initial response.
Caison says he has seen God work through volunteers in amazing ways during his 30 years in SBDR. He has seen God use the Southern Baptist response to disasters to change, not only the lives of those they’re serving, but to transform those who serve as well.
“You know, people say there are no miracles today,” Caison said. “I see them every day as I see what God is doing and how God is working. You just have to pay attention. It’s gotten to the point that I know it’s going to happen. I just praise Him when it happens over and over and over again.”
NAMB president Kevin Ezell said Caison’s influence has been remarkable.
“Mickey’s contribution to Southern Baptist relief efforts goes beyond measure,” Ezell said. “His role has been pivotal, and we are deeply indebted to him. He put off retirement not once but twice to help us out. Even now, he continues. That’s the kind of heart he has for serving.”
After 23 years of denominational service, Caison is asking God for the opportunity to serve as a transitional pastor somewhere in the North Atlanta area.
“As a pastor, I empowered people and that’s what I want to try to do again,” Caison said. “I want to serve churches that are in the throes of a crisis and be able to step in and help them work through that crisis and put them on a good footing, so their next pastor can come in and take them to a new level.”
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
Published December 7, 2017