By Tobin Perry
OSO, Wash. – When disasters strike, communities change in an instant. Pastor Gary Ray saw that firsthand a year and a half ago when a mudslide devastated the town of Oso, Wash., the small northwestern community he called home.
“The scale of the disaster was pretty significant,” Ray said. “It was one of the presidentially declared national disasters of the year. Part of what made this unique is that it happened in an area where there was a very low level of infrastructure. We were the only church in 100 square miles.”
In total, 43 people died during the March 22, 2014, mudslide. By the following month there were 176 people on the official “missing” list. The mudslide impacted nearly everyone in the small town.
As Oso Chapel, where Ray served as pastor at the time, stepped up to help its neighbors through one of its most significant times of crisis, they also reached out to welcome Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) to the efforts.
“We were very impressed with the DR teams,” Ray said. “They were fast on the scene. They were very sensitive to the need for the local church to take the lead.”
Last year SBDR volunteers spent more than 25,000 hours helping disaster survivors—including those in Oso. On Nov. 1, Southern Baptists throughout the United States will celebrate the ministry dedication of these volunteers through SBC Disaster Relief Appreciation Day. Churches can use this time to show videos about SBDR, invite volunteers to speak and even potentially set up SBDR ministry units in the church parking lot to give the congregation a firsthand look at the ministry.
With the support of SBDR, Oso Chapel reached out to the community in a variety of ways, such as becoming a hub for the community in its time of need. The church served as a reception point for material and financial donations that were given to help area residents and first-responders in the community. SBDR volunteers also assisted with media management, provided chaplain support, helped with various service and facility needs and much more, Ray added.
Ray had been in the process of planting a church in nearby Camano Island, Wash., when the mudslide happened. With months of prayer, planning and preparation having been committed to the launch, Ray decided to press forward on holding the church’s first service just one month after the disaster. He says the new church is doing well now. It is supporting a church plant in Bellingham, Wash., and exploring ways to “further expand the kingdom’s work in the northwest region,” Ray said.
Gary Floyd, the director of Northwest Baptist Disaster Relief, says one of the forgotten stories of the relief effort happened on the other side of the mudslide. The east side of the mudslide, in Darrington, had more SBDR volunteers participating because of the nature of the response. Both mud-out volunteers and chaplains played key roles. Mountain View Baptist Church in Darrington hosted a one-year anniversary of the mudslide with the participation of SBDR chaplains.
“Chaplains were a big deal in that response, on the west side particularly with first-responders and on the east side because there were more survivors as far as extended family there,” said Floyd, who serves on the staff of the Northwest Baptist Convention.
Floyd says SBDR continues to play a key role in helping Southern Baptists demonstrate the love of Christ during a time of great pain in communities.
“We’ve got to be willing to go, under the banner of Christ, and engage people where they are,” Floyd said. “I think that’s the great benefit for Southern Baptists. We have an incredible foothold, if you will, in the disaster response community. I believe God will continue to work through us and bless us as we engage people who are hurting and just need a hand up.”
As SBC Appreciation Day approaches, maybe one of the best ways for churches to show appreciation to the ministry of SBDR is to get prepared themselves to minister in the wake of a disaster. Ray points to that as one of the factors that aided Oso Community Church’s work.
“It is very, very important for every single church to have some kind of tie or line of communication with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” Ray said. “Because when a disaster strikes, it’s almost too late to begin to think about what do I do now. If you are going to lead your community in healing and being the point person for help, you have to be ready. You have to have things in place. You have to have people trained. You have to have a plan.”
For more information about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit namb.net/dr. For videos to highlight the work of SBDR during a worship service, visit https://www.namb.net/videos-disaster-relief.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
Published October 30, 2015