Pictured Above: Disaster Relief volunteers serving in Louisiana during a 2020 callout. They are prepared to offer help, healing and hope during the 2022 hurricane season.
With the 2022 hurricane season predicted to be “above average,” Florida Baptist Disaster Relief and Recovery teams stand prepared and ready to offer “help, healing and hope” to those impacted by the storms.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an “above average” 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs June 1-November 30, forecasting 14 to 21 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher, with six to 10 of those possibly becoming hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, and three to six possibly becoming major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.
When disasters strike, “We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and show people that God loves them and can bring hope through the devastation,” said David Coggins, Florida Baptist DR director.
In early June FLDR completed its seventh 2022 regional DR volunteer training event in the state. Currently FLDR has 4,000 credentialed volunteers with 493 of those individuals being new to the ministry.
Men and women of all ages, including students from the Baptist College of Florida and retired individuals, comprise the DR volunteer force. Many of them, after their first disaster response, become immersed in the ministry, serving for years or even decades.
The first “callout” as a DR volunteer for Fred Edwards was in New York City after the September 11, 2001, attack. He and his wife, Cathy, members of Airline Baptist Church in Mayo, continue to be actively involved in DR ministry today. He is the state chaplain coordinator while his wife serves on the state administrative team. They travel throughout the state during the spring to help train other DR volunteers and “then wait to be called to whatever disasters occur for the rest of the year,” he said.
“We love it because it gives us the opportunity to serve people in the name of Jesus,” Edwards said.
In addition to the regional training events, online training is also available to DR volunteers. The online training option was added in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions, and it continues to be a preferred option for some volunteers.
Training sessions include an introduction to the ministry for new volunteers, who are invited to select and be trained in one of eight DR ministry areas: administration, cleanup and recovery, communications, feeding, chaplaincy, child care, on-site management and logistics.
“We have very dedicated and committed volunteers who serve year-round, not just during storm season,” Coggins said.
Equipment maintenance/cooperative partnerships
Also prior to hurricane season, all equipment is examined to ensure that it is in proper working order. Equipment used in FLDR response is stored in a warehouse on the grounds of Lake Yale Conference Center, and DR operations manager Rich Rigdon, a member of First Baptist Church of Brandon, ensures that it is maintained properly and ready for response.
Another preparation task for FLDR is to stay in contact with partners at Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. FLDR also works in tandem with DR teams from other Baptist state conventions.
“Southern Baptist cooperative efforts are demonstrated through disaster relief,” Coggins said. “We send our people throughout the nation. Then, when we need help, they come to us.”
Just as FLDR is prepared for the 2022 hurricane season, Coggins encourages all Floridians to prepare for disasters, having a family plan in place, which might include evacuation routes, possible emergency shelters, emergency supplies, and a pre-selected meeting place if family members are not together when a storm strikes.
Focus on eternity
As DR teams respond with practical help for those impacted by disasters, Coggins has discovered, “People reflect not just on the immediate but on eternity. We encourage those affected by disaster not to get stuck in the situation. We encourage them not to look back but to look forward and take steps toward healing.”
God, he said, becomes “real” to those who are hurting through “His people” who arrive to help.
“We are fortunate to be used,” he said.
“Theologically we know God doesn’t cause these storms. God has always provided an avenue through His people to show He can bring hope through devastation.”
Edwards agreed, “There is no greater feeling than to help people regain the hope and the will to go on in spite of the crisis in their lives and to help them to see the love of Jesus at the same time.”
For individuals interested in DR ministry but not yet trained, tentative dates and locations for 2023 DR training have been set.