2012: Disaster Relief workers relieve suffering after Sandy
When Super Storm Sandy made landfall in the Northeast in early November, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were right behind her. Even as the rain still fell, workers representing the country’s third-largest disaster relief organization traveled to New York and New Jersey to cook meals (more than 1.7 million), remove fallen trees, and help residents begin to pick up the pieces in their flooded homes.
The volunteers were also there to listen. Disaster Relief Chaplain Jan Kragness was among the 135 workers from Illinois who participated in the recovery effort. It was “awe inspiring to be part of such a maneuver,” said Kragness, a member of Third Baptist in Marion. Her group was stopped several times on the streets by New Yorkers who recognized their yellow shirts and jackets as the ones worn by some of the first responders to 9/11.
People were “just thanking us for our presence there, and remembering that we had been in their city in another time of crisis,” Kragness said.
2013: More missions opportunities in unchurched areas
When a gunman killed 27 people, including 20 children, at a Connecticut elementary school in mid-December, Enio Aguero, national Disaster Relief chaplaincy coordinator, was still working in the area as part of the Sandy response. The North American Mission Board immediately dispatched him to Connecticut, where he was assigned to the team that notified families affected by the tragedy. More chaplains soon traveled to the area to minister to teachers and families, and to develop a long-term plan for helping people in the community.
“The Lord was ahead of us,” national Disaster Relief leaders said, recognizing the providence of having a trusted presence, albeit it a Christian one, in an area where people are less familiar with church.
That the “yellow shirts” are a comforting sight in the midst of disaster is a key factor in how Southern Baptists, including volunteers from Illinois, are able to minister in those unchurched regions of the country. In 2013, NAMB will coordinate church-to-church partnerships between visiting volunteers and congregations still rebuilding after Sandy.
The long-term response plans, which include a collegiate mobilization effort over winter break, should boost the efforts of first responders like Kragness. She recounts how her group was allowed to visit the World Trade Center memorial, which usually requires a pre-purchased ticket. But when they showed up in their yellow uniforms, they were given special “first responder” tickets. Kragness said it “made you see the big picture in how good it is to be a part of an organization that has a history of responding in time of need.”