A damaged vehicle sits on a high school baseball field following the Feb. 10 tornado that struck Hattiesburg, Miss. (Ryan Moore/Hattiesburg American)
A damaged vehicle sits on a high school baseball field following the Feb. 10 tornado that struck Hattiesburg, Miss. (Ryan Moore/Hattiesburg American)

NABF retools disaster-relief network

Network members and aid workers say change will help victims of natural disasters.

By Jeff Brumley

The stream of volunteers coming through La Place, La., these days ebbs and flows, says Reid Doster, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana.

A large group of Stetson University students is currently rehabbing some of the hundreds of homes still damaged when hurricane Isaac blew through last August. Baylor University students are due in next week, followed by a group from First Baptist Church of Columbus, Ga.

But it gets murkier after that, Doster said.

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“Several other groups are talking to me, but we haven’t nailed down the dates,” he said. “The phones aren’t ringing much.”

That’s why Doster said he favors an effort by the North American Baptist Fellowship to enhance the way its disaster network communicates responders’ needs.

Members of the NABF Disaster Response Network agreed during a conference call on Thursday to issue more uniform and consistent e-mail reports from disaster areas. The idea is to enable members like CBF, American Baptist Churches USA and others to know how they can help in regions where they lack a strong church presence.

The members also agreed to explore creating an internet bulletin board, probably on the NABF home page, where such information also can be posted.

Network leader Harry Rowland reminded members the group’s mandate was not to create a new disaster-response agency, but to be a clearinghouse for information about how member groups are responding to disasters.

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In the case of Isaac, Rowland said the flow of information was good in in the beginning then tapered off – more so after other natural disasters occurred.

“We did not find a collaborative way to respond,” Rowland said.

More consistently sharing needs for volunteers and other assistance would help ABCUSA share the information with churches and individuals that may wish to respond, said Victoria Goff, the denomination’s national coordinator of volunteer and disaster-response ministries.

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“We are a smaller organization … so often times I rely on other denominations to go in and have things set up and we will come in and work along side them,” she said. “That’s helpful to me and American Baptists.”

Outside Thursday’s conference call, Goff and other members of the disaster network identified ongoing disaster relief they are providing months after the original events.

The Baptist General Association of Virginia has teamed up with North Carolina Baptist Men to provide ongoing assistance to Hurricane Sandy victims in parts of New York and New Jersey, said Dean Miller VBMB’s disaster-relief coordinator.

ABC-USA is also still engaged in Sandy relief, Goff said.

Tommy Deal, CBF’s national disaster-response coordinator, said volunteers are still needed in La Place while CBF continues working with Sandy victims, mostly through providing funds to existing ministries and charities.

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CBF Mississippi is directing Baptist volunteers to a local nonprofit that is coordinating cleanup from a tornado that ripped through Hattiesburg on Feb. 10, said Jim Kirkendall, the state group’s disaster-response coordinator.

The benefit of the NABF partnership ultimately is to help congregations and individual Christians live their callings, Deal told ABPnews.

“It’s good to see people being fulfilled by being able to help others,” he said. “And it’s good to see people who have gone through such a dark period in life get to see a glimmer of light from God’s people.”

The NABF partners agreed to begin the enhanced communications process with ongoing projects, including Isaac – and that was good news to Doster.

“It would be unquestionably helpful – anything to remind people that we are still here and that we still need help,” Doster said.