As an Iowa Baptist, I can tell you that there are two Southern Baptist ministries that really make a difference in our neck of the woods. No one here cares a lick about who is elected president of the SBC, or about the NAMB restructuring or the IMB search committee. If you offered a million dollars to anyone in my church to name the president of the SBC or NAMB, no one except the three staff pastors and our DOM would have a chance to collect. If anyone in my church knows who Tom Eliff is, I would be shocked. Iowa people, with the fewest of exceptions, simply don’t care about what is going on in the SBC at large. We’re not Southern (we are nominally excluded from the inner circle) and few of them were Baptist before they joined our church.
But we care about World Changers and we care about Disaster Relief (DR). Those ministries have been remarkably successful around here. World Changers comes to Sioux City every year and Southern Baptists now have credibility with the city governments and in the community because of the work that has been done. And Iowa benefited greatly from the DR work done by Southern Baptists in the Great Floods of 1993 and 2009 that nearly wiped out parts of our state. S0uthern Baptist Disaster Relief not only made a huge difference, but it opened great ministry opportunities here. There is a DR chainsaw trailer in our church parking lot. One of my associate pastors has been on DR trips to Florida, Louisiana, Texas and all over the Midwest. Not only have we ministered to a LOT of people, but DR has been a unifying force for Southern Baptist work in Iowa.
In the last couple of years, NAMB has made changes to both of these ministries. The changes to World Changers have most definitely NOT made that ministry more effective here. And the recent changes to the Disaster Relief may have the same effect as those.
World Changers used to come in on Saturday, attend SBC churches in the region on Sunday and prepare for Monday. Monday morning they were up and at it and the work they accomplished was amazing. Now, they travel in on Monday, start on Tuesday and have no opportunity to have contact with the churches. It probably doesn’t matter in Bible Belt churches, but it really made an impression on folks when dozens of young folks showed up on Sunday morning ready to minister. Now, that blessing is gone.
From what we have been told, this was done in part to save money and make more effective use of the summer staff. For us, this has resulted in the World Changer Ministry here being a little less effective than it was, with less church involvement and less time to touch the larger community.
Now, they are changing things in DR. I hope that the changes they are making in DR will not be as damaging as the changes they made in World Changers. But there is a lot of fear out there.
I got an email today from a man who is heavily involved in DR. I know who he is, but I am not going to use his name here. His letter is hardly a hit-piece. It is balanced and fair. But I think it is best to protect his identity. He read the discussion we had last week and wrote me with his perspective on it.
A Letter from a Disaster Relief Leader
I will give you my take on things and try and stick to the facts as I know them or have been told. I must say, however, that I am not without prejudice as some of the people that were let go in this process were people I considered friends, having worked with them in different DR situations. I will try to stay as objective as possible and give both sides as I know them.
First of all, for Disaster Relief to be involved in Church Planting is not a new idea. For a number of years now the leaders from the different states and NAMB have looked for ways in which the work of Disaster Relief could be used more effectively for Kingdom expansion and possible church planting. As the young man from ND stated in your blog, “I can’t find or think of any way that you can credibly “support an evangelistic church planting process” as a part of disaster relief.” And, “Disasters are not a place for church planting! People who have gone through the trauma of a disaster don’t need a new church, they need basics like food, shelter, possibly clothing or others supplies. They certainly need spiritual support, but the work of a chaplain in a disaster setting is completely different than the work of a pastor in a church.” I believe Jeff is both right and wrong in what he says.
In the immediate aftermath of a Disaster the emphasis is on the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those affected by the Disaster as Jeff stated. However, all Southern Baptist Disaster Relief are encouraged to share the gospel, both through their actions in caring for the people but also in the sharing of their faith as God opens doors. We have to be careful to avoid “cramming it down their throats” or appearing that our helping them is in any way dependent on how they respond to us or what we say. For example, if a chainsaw unit goes to a home to remove trees, the first thing they try and do is to introduce themselves to the homeowner, tell who they are and what they will be doing for them. They may pray with them at that time, after the work is done or both. However, during the time the team is working on the property, many times the family will come outside, if able, and members of the team will visit with them. Some times during these conversations they will have the opportunity to share more of why they are there and this can lead to deeper spiritual conversations. A lot of what they do is to allow the affected person to share their story and begin to process it. The same sort of thing happens in feeding line, water purification unit, child care units or any other type of unit.
As crews make contact with people and have opportunity to minister to them, they are to report back at the end of the day about their contacts and make our contact slips for later follow-up. It is with this later follow up, that the Church Planting can be brought into the process. If the affected people live in an area where there are other SBC churches, the information is suppose to be shared with them for later follow-up. What has happened in recent years is that we have had major disasters in areas in which there is not SBC church and the DR leadership in consultation with other departments at NAMB have been looking for ways to more effectively follow up with people in these areas with an eye to planting churches building on what the DR volunteers have done previously.
Last year DR volunteers made over 75,000 ministry contactS and presented the gospel over 25,000 times and with the exception of Haiti most of the DR events were not huge in nature compared to many years. They have been trying to emphasis the need to follow-up after the event either through a local church or bringing in people to follow-up and possibly start some type of Bible Study ultimately leading to a new church.
The changes that have taken place since Dr Ezell came to the leadership is where there has been some disconnect and cause for questioning and wondering what will be the future of DR in relation to NAMB. One must first of all realize that NAMB does not control Disaster Relief or own any units (with perhaps the exception of a few shower units and Incident Command units) that respond to disasters. Many disasters are handled on a local level unless the scope of the disaster exceeds the affected states ability to respond. At that point in the past what they have done is contact NAMB and have them contact other states and ask them to activate their units. At that time NAMB begins to coordinate the multi-state response at the request and in coordination with the affected state. At this time NAMB usually activates its DOC (Disaster Operation Center) to help coordinate and track responding units as well as gather data on the response. NAMB may also assist the state by sending in and IC (Incident Command Team) to help coordinate things on the ground.
For a number of years the main leaders at NAMB to assist in this effort have been Mickey Caison, Terry Henderson, Bruce Poss, Karl Regan and an administrative assistant. If it is a very large event, they may pull people from other section of the building to assist in the effort. The last few years, Mickey Caison has been a team leader over the volunteer mission’s area which includes other organizations which deal with volunteer missions as well as DR. Terry Henderson served as the off-site coordinator which means that he spent a lot of time away from home in large disasters. He came out of a Fire Department career before coming to NAMB and did a lot to assist DR in changing over from the way we had always done things to helping DR adjust to the new reality of more government involvement is DR. He also served as a liaison with many governmental agencies as well as relating to State DR Directors. He is probably THE most well known person in other DR agencies for the SBC. Bruce Poss was brought on a few years ago to oversee things at NAMB and coordinate things on that end. Karl Regan has served in the DR area for years assisting in activating the units. He is the one that many times called the different unit coordinators and assisted them in getting the units to the right place at the right time. He is also the one who would always pray with you on the phone whenever he talked to you. They say the one problem with Karl was that you had to make him go home during a disaster because he did not want to leave the office.
In late Oct. or early Nov., Dr Ezell met with a group of State DR directors known as the Coordinating Council. From what I have been told, they were told at that meeting that they would be no substantial changes in DR. Within two or three days after this meeting, they received word that Terry Henderson and Karl Regan were being told to retire and being let go respectively. While Terry was in the age range of the buyout (he did not want to retire), he was told there was no place for him in the new structure. Karl was being let go because there was also no place for him, as they had to cut back. These two men combined or separate were two VERY key leaders in DR at NAMB. At a later meeting, Mickey Caison said it was his decision to let them go. Let’s just say there were a lot of state DR Directors that were very upset and it could have ended in DR forming its own entity and cutting NAMB out completely.
What was explained for the future of DR is the following. NAMB wants to see DR be done more on a regional basis. What that means is that when Texas has a large hurricane, they would not call NAMB if they needed help. What they would do instead is call Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas or other states in the region and basically leave NAMB out of it. Part of this is based on finances. In the past, when NAMB has been called into to assist in a Disaster and has to bring in an Incident Command team, NAMB has picked up the tab for that. In long term and large scale disasters that can be very costly. For the most part NAMB DR is able to do this through undesignated gifts that are given to the DR and not NAMB’s regular funds. This has proved difficult to do in some instances if there have been no gifts given and the disaster does not get much play in the media. My question for the future is if the states will be able to cover this expense when they are being asked to cut back and make sacrifices already in their budgets to allow more funding to go to different locations?
The sadness for me is not only the loss of these two very vital and key men (that I both love and appreciate) at NAMB but also for many years DR functioned within each convention as a separate entity unto itself. Over the last 6-8 years, both because of necessity and a lot of hard work, that was beginning to change to become one organization made up of many parts that could work both independently and cooperatively as the needs dictate. Going to the regionalization idea is not a bad idea unless it breaks up the unity and the coordination that was developed in the last few years. Regionalization is fine for regional events, but will the coordination and expertise be there when there is a catastrophic, multi-regional event like a Katrina or a 9/11? This month FEMA is having a test event to simulate earth quake along the Mississippi River. If we lose this ability to coordinate things at the national level, we will be woefully inadequate when it comes to responding in a coordinated way to an event of this sort.
I love DR. I love the people I have had the opportunity to serve and serve with in many disaster situations. I have appreciated and learned much from our leaders and trainers as well as the people I have served with. I love being able to go into a disaster and say, “Please allow me to help you” and do it in Jesus’ name. I would hate to see any of that diminished because we are no longer able to coordinate and work together well.
I appreciate this man’s balanced and honest perspective. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Disaster Relief is an incredibly effective Southern Baptist program. I have a question.
If it ain’t broke, why are we trying to fix it?