SBC president Bobby Welch issues spiritual S.O.S.

GULFPORT, Miss. (BP)--While touring Mississippi's storm-ravaged Gulf Coast, Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch called the destruction and devastation left by Hurricane Katrina "the most grievous loss of humanity and the most horrific obliteration of property imaginable in recent history."

"In fact, you can't even imagine it," said Welch, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"Despite the best efforts of the news media, it's impossible to sense the confusion, observe the destruction, smell the stench, hear the cries, dry the tears, clothe the threadbare, as well as hug and feed the hurting and hungry unless you're here," Welch told Baptist Press. Welch toured the stricken area Sept. 1-2.

"This is a disaster of biblical proportion, and it demands a biblical response -- now," he said. "How can I be more explicit? This situation is dire -- it's an ongoing emergency.

"So I'm urgently calling upon and desperately pleading with our 16 million Southern Baptists and their 43,000 churches to heed the call of the Gospel right now."

Having gained access to areas cordoned off by rifle-toting police and military personnel, Welch walked with reverential sadness among the piles of nonsensical rubble that were once people's homes and churches.

"The devastation is so severe and the situation is so desperate that I'm sending out a spiritual S.O.S. to Christians of all faiths to come join the ranks of our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams and other relief agencies."

As Katrina mustered strength in the Gulf of Mexico, Southern Baptists reciprocated on land, ready to deploy to areas hardest hit as soon as weather permitted.

"In some places, our folks were first on the scene, but we are going to need thousands more workers in order to meet the physical needs and, more importantly, the spiritual needs of multiplied thousands of these downtrodden and displaced refugees."

Welch said Southern Baptists are already serving about 300,000 hot meals every day, but that's expected to nearly double in the days ahead.

"If you can't get to the Gulf, don't worry. You can find another way to minister," Welch said, noting that many Southern Baptist churches are already opening their facilities for evacuees and church members also are opening their homes.

"Praise God for those humble, generous folks. However, we need many, many more people and churches responding like this than we've got right now."

Welch said some Southern Baptists who've already taken in refugees realize that "these people have no homes to go back to, so they're trying to help them relocate and find jobs right where they are."

"This is the kind of ministry that's so urgently needed because it points people to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," Welch said.

"'Everyone can, and I'm it' ought to be our battle cry as we rush into this war for the very lives of people and their eternal destinies," he said.

"We've done this kind of thing before, but never on this scale or for the length of time this disaster will require.

"We need to pray, pray, pray, give, give, give, and go, go, go as we never ever have in all of our convention's history for the sake of lost and dying souls, for the sake of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

"Southern Baptists, I'm begging you to please respond now. Don't just turn off the 10 o'clock news and go to bed grieved," Welch said. "Don't merely lay down the newspaper and say, 'Yeah, it's bad down there.' Instead, take action. Pray, and then find a way to get involved. Do it now."


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