Disaster relief volunteers/leaders gather for training, planning, relationship-building

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JACKSONVILLE–Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and leaders from throughout the nation gathered Jan. 24-26 at North Jacksonville Baptist Church for an annual training event and roundtable designed to prepare for future ministry opportunities, celebrate past efforts and strengthen relationships.

At this year’s meeting, leaders from Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm for Southern Baptists, gathered with attendees to strategize for future partnerships in disaster relief. Leaders representing state convention disaster relief and Send Relief continue to fine-tune protocols after entering into a cooperative working agreement at last year’s roundtable meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Send Relief supports Southern Baptist Disaster Relief during disaster responses, which includes providing and distributing relief supplies and equipment as needed for disaster response. While Send Relief often establishes a fund specific to a disaster response and shares those funds with state convention disaster relief units at the forefront of the crisis, attendees agreed this year that Send Relief would share 10% of all undesignated crisis response donations with SBDR.

The three-day gathering consisted of two days of training and committee meetings, culminating in an all-day roundtable, or business meeting.

Four separate training sessions, with a variety of breakout options in each session, focused on everything from engaging with survivors on the telephone to understanding cellular and satellite technologies.

During the roundtable, various disaster relief partners presented reports, new state disaster relief directors were introduced, and various guidelines and updates were reviewed.

On Wednesday evening, roundtable participants celebrated state and national volunteers and leaders through a number of awards presented at a banquet.

During the banquet, Tommy Green, Florida Baptists’ executive director-treasurer, thanked attendees for their vital partnership during response to Hurricane Ian’s devastating assault on Florida in 2022. “You came, and you came big and you helped us,” Green said. A total of 31 state convention disaster relief units assisted in Hurricane Ian response efforts, and more than 225 professions of faith were recorded. He added that there “isn’t anything else we do as Southern Baptists that brings this kind of response,” describing disaster relief as “one of the biggest ministry opportunities there is.”

Florida Baptists’ Disaster Relief director David Coggins also expressed gratefulness for the partnership response in 2022 relief efforts.

‘I was really pleased to host this year’s roundtable meeting because it gave us a chance to say to all of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief how thankful we are for their support and response in our time of need during Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in 2022.’

David Coggins Florida Baptist Disaster Relief Director

“I was really pleased to host this year’s roundtable meeting because it gave us a chance to say to all of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief how thankful we are for their support and response in our time of need during Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in 2022. I was able to look across the table at state directors and volunteers and tell them how they helped impact the kingdom in Florida and touch lives in a significant way,” Coggins said.

The disaster relief partnership also positively impacted the lives of Florida Baptist pastors and helped strengthen Florida Baptist Disaster Relief relationships with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Florida governor’s office and others, Coggins said.

“I was also pleased to host because it gave some of our volunteer leaders who would not normally have an opportunity to attend the national meeting to attend and meet others and get additional training in their area of expertise,” he said.

Cathy Edwards, Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteer.

This year’s training and roundtable event was the second for Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Cathy Edwards from Airline Baptist Church in Mayo. In addition to helping set up for the 2023 Florida Baptist-hosted event, Edwards said that training sessions and opportunities to get to know volunteers from throughout the nation were helpful in her disaster relief administrative role.

Green preached a brief message during the Wednesday evening banquet. Focusing on Philippians 3:12-14, Green encouraged disaster relief volunteers, even when they are tired or feel unappreciated or undervalued, to “press” inward, growing in their faith; outward, being used by Christ; and forward, knowing that our future is found in Jesus.

The Baptist College of Florida Jazz Band provided entertainment during the dinner.

BCF Jazz BandSouthern Baptists have approximately 65,000 trained disaster relief volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,850 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief began as a grassroots movement among Southern Baptists in the late 1960s and now 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.

In addition to providing relief following natural disasters, disaster relief volunteers also respond at other times as well, such as caring for first responders during civil unrest and also providing ministry as needed in various contexts. For individuals interested in becoming credentialed as disaster relief volunteers, six regional Florida Baptist Disaster Relief training events are scheduled this spring.

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