Flooding, other challenges draw Baptist relief

WARREN, Mich. (BP) -- Massive flooding in Michigan affecting tens of thousands of homes and businesses has opened the door for ministry by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers.

The three-county area around Warren, Mich., has been described by some as the nation's largest natural disaster that few people have heard about, largely because of other national and international headlines that have overshadowed it in recent days.

Baptist State Convention of Michigan Disaster Relief director Wynn Williams said he expects the relief work to last for weeks. Assessments are ongoing, but more than 450 job requests have already been recorded for homes inundated with water from slow moving rain storms Aug. 11.

"There are 40,000 affected homes in Oakland County alone," Williams said. "There are another 30,000 to 40,000 damaged homes in Wayne County and then all the work in McComb County. There was as much as 15 feet of water over some of the expressways. Homes have damage from anywhere from a few inches to several feet of floodwater."

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has dispatched a mobile command unit to help coordinate the response. Eddie Blackmon, NAMB SBDR coordinator, is assisting Williams in organizing the effort.

"This is the highest number of affected homes I have seen in a single response in the 15 years I have been working with SBDR," Blackmon said. "We are going to need a lot of help."

Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) with NAMB, said the scope of the flooding, and the size of the response needed, have received little media attention so far.

"The spiritual opportunity in Michigan calls for the kind of committed response Southern Baptists are known for in bringing help, healing and hope in the midst of crises," Wilson said. "God has been orchestrating circumstances in and around Detroit for more than a year. We need to respond to this opportunity to serve."

And SBDR volunteers are serving in Ferguson, Mo., too. Missouri Baptist Convention SBDR director Dwaine Carter said volunteers have assisted with clean up each day in Ferguson following the riots and racial tension that have erupted there since Aug. 9.

Meanwhile SBDR volunteers are engaged in active responses in Colorado, Hawaii, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, and in rebuild efforts in New York and New Jersey.

Cleanup work continues in response to record wild fires in Washington in the Carlton Complex fire, which claimed more than 350 homes, and two other major fires. Northwest Baptist Convention regional SBDR coordinator Paul Henry reported 52 ash-out projects have already been completed.

"We have volunteers from the Northwest convention, Utah/Idaho and California actively working now," Henry said. "We are expecting teams from California, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men to arrive soon to continue the work."

Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention volunteers have been assisting residents in the Keaau area southeast of Hilo. The area suffered heavy wind damage from Hurricane Iselle.

"There are a lot of fallen trees," Hawaii SBDR coordinator Darrell McCain said. "There are still about 1,000 homes without power in the area. We are expecting a chainsaw team from California this week to help with tree removal."

Wilson described the immediate response of SBDR volunteers in states like Hawaii and Washington as an impressive display of the growing SBDR network.

"I want to commend the service and great leadership of Darrel and the other leaders," he said. "Our volunteers are serving where there is great need and great opportunity to share the Gospel."

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or click here. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.


Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).