For Disaster Relief Chaplains, Role Includes Ministry to Teammates and the Public

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Fred Edwards is expecting higher attendance at this spring’s training events for those who are seeking to be chaplains with Florida Baptist Disaster Relief and Recovery Ministries.

After the 2022 Hurricane season in Florida that included Hurricanes Fiona, Ian and Nicole, he said more people are aware of the need for volunteers with DR ministries.

“Last year we averaged about 40 people at each event,” he said of the specific chaplain training that is offered. “That will change from year to year depending on the type of hurricane season we’ve had. If you go two or three years and don’t have many hurricanes, people may get lulled into thinking they are not needed.”

Edwards serves as FLDR’s state chaplain coordinator, overseeing all the required training for new chaplain volunteers and calling existing chaplains into service when disaster strikes. About 150 chaplains currently serve on the state team. When Hurricane Ian hit south Florida last September, about 70 chaplains were called into service.

When the state is put on alert for a hurricane, Edwards receives the call and begins the process of contacting his regional coordinators, who each contact volunteers from their geographic areas to be on standby.

“I make sure all of our chaplains are notified,” said Edwards, who also serves as interim pastor of Airline Baptist Church in Mayo. “We start putting teams together. We try to get chaplains in all of our ministry areas, from feeding and recovery teams, to cleanup and assessment. We try to put a chaplain on each of those teams.”

In doing so, the chaplains are ready to minister to residents who have been impacted by the devastation of a storm or hurricane as well as to their fellow DR volunteers. For anyone who encounters one of the various teams, there will always be someone who can minister to them.

“If the chaplains work with the feeding team, they will be cooking and serving and doing everything that team does. And their responsibility largely is to be the chaplain and watch for stress among their own team,” he said. “If the chaplains are with the cleanup and recovery team, they will do everything those people are doing. Sometime during the day – maybe 30 minutes or so – they will sit down with the homeowners and just talk to them. That family will be their responsibility.”

Steven Ruff, pastor of First Baptist Church of Perry, serves as the FLDR chaplaincy coordinator for Region 2, responsible for helping chaplain volunteers become fully credentialed, communicating callout details and also serving.

In Port Charlotte after Hurricane Ian, Ruff was the lead chaplain for the command center at Murdock Baptist Church, supervising the work of all 18 chaplains onsite that week. Some chaplains were working on ministry teams while others were deployed to various neighborhoods to pray with homeowners, deliver disaster help information, make food deliveries and more.

Some may think the most challenging aspect for DR volunteers may be being away from family or the cramped living conditions, but Ruff is used to that, having served in the military and on mission trips. For Ruff, the most challenging aspect of DR is not knowing how these people’s stories end.

“For a few days, we enter the lives of those who have been affected by tragedy. We listen to their stories, hear their hearts, and do our best to help begin the healing process. Then it’s our turn to head home. We’re human; we want to know how their stories end. We often never know. So, we trust a sovereign God to hear the prayers and cries of His people,” he said.

The role of chaplain is so important to those who have been impacted because they can offer hope when situations seem hopeless. As part of their training, chaplains learn listening techniques and how to help those who are hurting.

“We know enough about people and things to look for, that when we see someone hurting, we try to at least gather enough information, so we figure out a place to get started with them,” Edwards said. “We try to be a conduit to get them out of the hopeless state they’re in, to help them get their life started back again.”

‘Everything we do is for the purpose of creating an opportunity to share Jesus with someone. Our main job is to share Jesus with them, and we do that in word and deed.’

Fred Edwards State Chaplain Coordinator, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief

While chaplain volunteers serve with all of the different teams, they know their main role is ministering to others.

“All of our team leaders will tell you that everything we do – from feeding, to cutting trees off people’s houses – everything we do is for the purpose of creating an opportunity to share Jesus with someone. Our main job is to share Jesus with them, and we do that in word and deed.”

Spring 2023 Disaster Relief Training Schedule

March 4 -Southeast Training Center – Miami

March 18 – Covenant Fellowship Baptist Church, Stuart

April 1 – First Baptist Church, New Port Richey

April 15 – First Baptist Church, LaBelle

April 29 – First Baptist Church, Middleburg

May 20 – Hopeful Baptist Church, Lake City

June 3 – First Baptist Church on Bayshore, Niceville

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