SBDR responds in Ohio against backdrop of historic two weeks of tornadoes

 By Tobin Perry

BEAVERCREEK, Ohio (BP)—Southern Baptists in Ohio and Kentucky are on the ground and serving Ohio residents impacted by devastating tornadoes. According to the National Weather Service, a record 17 tornadoes hit Ohio on the evening of Monday, May 27.

An SBDR volunteer stands near a downed tree left behind by an EF3 tornado on Monday night in Beavercreek, Ohio. Three teams with a total of around 40 SBDR volunteers are serving around the Beavercreek community. The volunteers come from churches throughout Ohio and Kentucky. Photo submitted by Kentucky SBDR.

Authorities have reported one death due to the tornadoes and about 90 injuries. The storms were among 56 tornadoes that touched down across eight states, stretching as far west as Idaho and Colorado. Monday’s damage comes in the midst of 13 straight days of tornadoes hitting the United States through Wednesday (May 29). More than 200 tornadoes struck the Midwest in that span.

The two weeks of tornadoes follows three months of heavy flooding throughout the Midwest. Along with their relief work following the tornadoes, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) is also involved in flood relief in eight states.

Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s national director of SBDR, called it the most widespread impact of natural disasters he has seen since he got involved in SBDR in 1998. The widespread nature of the need, Porter says, underscores opportunities for more volunteers so Southern Baptists can continue to meet needs and share Christ in the midst of these disasters.

“There’s not enough trained volunteers to meet all those needs, which begs the question, ‘What can the person in the pew do?” Porter said. “Southern Baptists have had this vehicle called disaster relief for 52 years. It’s there if you want to be a part of it. It’s one of the most amazing ministries Southern Baptists have because it helps people when they’re at their very lowest, when they don’t know what to do and they’ve lost hope.”

Porter notes that between September of 2017 through the present, one to two people a day are saved through the ministry of SBDR.

In Ohio, Southern Baptists have responded to one of the past two weeks’ most severe set of tornadoes. SBDR has established a base of operations at Beavercreek Baptist Church of Beavercreek, Ohio. Currently, SBDR has three chainsaw teams deployed throughout the area. Beavercreek, the second-largest suburb of Dayton, was hit by an EF-3 tornado on Monday.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers Roy Blair, Tom Miller, and Doug Dyer of Georgetown (Ohio) Baptist Church work together to clear debris from the yard of a Beavercreek, Ohio, homeowner. About 40 SBDR volunteers from Ohio and Kentucky are now serving in Beavercreek, based out of Beavercreek Baptist Church. Photo submitted by Ohio SBDR.

“We’re seeing multiple trees down in yards,” said Sam Kelley, the director of disaster relief for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. “We’re seeing roofs off and windows out, the types of things that come in a windstorm. It’s only in spots though. There are neighborhoods that are perfectly fine. And then, just down the road, there’s a block where there’s total devastation.”

About 40 SBDR volunteers, including two teams from Ohio and one from Kentucky, are currently serving in a variety of roles in Beavercreek. SBDR teams from Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee are on alert and prepared to deploy into Ohio if needed.

“This is one of the strengths of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, we’re a network of state conventions that can work together,” said Coy Webb, the disaster relief director at the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “There’s no doubt. It would be the same thing if it happened in Louisville, Ky. There’s no way Ohio can handle everything that fits their needs right now. It’s great to have this large network that we can call upon in partnership. It makes a difference. It allows us to have those gold shirts out there and be witnesses for Christ.”

Southern Baptists who have an interest and availability to serve through SBDR can contact their state Baptist convention to find out how they can donate or volunteer.

Ruth Bates and Dave Hellard serve as part of a chainsaw crew, clearing debris from the residence of a Beavercreek, Ohio, home. The EF3 tornado that hit the community Monday night left a path of destruction behind it. Photo submitted by Ohio SBDR.

“We truly, at this point in time, need thousands of more Southern Baptist people signing up to say, ‘Show me how I can make a difference in other people’s lives,’” Porter said. “You do that by going to your state convention disaster relief director.”

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is responsible for coordinating national responses by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which is one of the three largest providers of disaster relief volunteers in the United States.

NAMB utilizes partnerships with 42 Baptist conventions that operate in all 50 states to gather volunteers and respond to disasters, including: providing hot meals, chainsaw and mud-out relief work following natural disasters.

To volunteer or make a donation to a specific state Baptist disaster relief organization, click here.

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.

MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published May 30, 2019