2016 was a year of challenge and change with the Disaster Relief (DR) Ministry. The SBC of Virginia conducted five trainings in the spring and two additional trainings in the fall. More than 180 volunteers were trained in areas of spiritual first aid, evangelism, chain saw, flood recovery, mass feeding, and more.
Last year, more than 300 SBCV DR volunteers served in six states. The responses included teams to Virginia (tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods), West Virginia (floods), Louisiana (floods), North and South Carolina (hurricane), and Tennessee (wildfire).
On February 24, 2016, Mark Gauthier once again assumed the role of Disaster Relief director. On that very day, Virginia was struck with eight tornadoes.
Three people died in the small town of Waverly, and a fourth person was killed in Appomattox County, according to local officials. The Appomattox tornado was rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service, with wind speeds estimated at 136 to 165 mph. This made it the strongest February tornado ever recorded in Virginia. The Waverly tornado was rated an EF-1 with wind speeds estimated at 100 to 110 mph.
SBCV Disaster Relief met needs in the Tappahannock area, Waverly, and Appomattox, where SBCV was asked by the local emergency manager to lead in the relief effort. Dozens of SBCV churches with 100s of volunteers worked alongside local volunteers to meet needs across the three areas.
Two flood recovery teams responded in April 2016 to Natchitoches Parish, LA. More than 28 volunteers from 13 SBCV churches completed dozens of muck-out jobs, meeting the physical needs of families who survived the flood and sharing the love of Christ.
In August, SBCV Disaster Relief was called out in response to flooding in Virginia and West Virginia. Flood recovery teams responded in Virginia, and feeding teams were sent to West Virginia at the request of the North American Mission Board. More than 65,000 meals were served to those who were impacted by the floods in WV, and teams mucked out dozens of homes in Virginia.
In September, SBCV DR was called upon once again to respond to massive flooding—this time in Baton Rouge, LA. Well over 65,000 homes were flooded, impacting nearly a quarter of a million people. This was the largest disaster since Hurricane Sandy, and the effects were compared to those of Hurricane Katrina. SBCV responded with flood recovery teams of volunteers from across Virginia working in dozens of homes in the Baton Rouge area. Leadership was also provided at the federal and state level, working with Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief. Additionally, many churches responded by preparing flood buckets, which provided basic cleaning supplies to be used by homeowners. SBCV teams stayed at and worked in partnership with Istrouma Baptist Church, whose pastor, Dr. Jeff Ginn, is one of SBCV’s former executive directors.
In October, Hurricane Matthew struck along the East Coast, bringing with it historic floods from South Carolina up through Virginia. Additionally, thousands of trees were downed by the storm, predominantly in South Carolina. SBCV teams responded to South Carolina with chain saw recovery teams and to North Carolina with flood recovery teams. For several weeks, First Baptist Church of Norfolk and Liberty Baptist Church of Hampton led the flood recovery efforts in Virginia Beach, where more than 1,600 homes were impacted.
The final response for SBCV DR teams in 2016 was to help clean up wildfire damage around Gatlinburg, TN, where 14 lost their lives and more than 2,100 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Two teams responded the week before Christmas, conducting recovery work, which included chain saw work, removing damaged trees, and sifting through ashes in burned-out homes. It was in one of those homes that team members were able to recover a lost diamond ring, which will help in bringing healing to the homeowners.
As we look forward to 2017, we are implementing several changes. To provide better maintenance of the equipment with which we have been blessed, SBCV has acquired a small warehouse in Lynchburg, where all of the units will be stationed. One other significant change is that the initial 2. hours of DR training will be available online. The traditional format will still be available, but an online option will allow volunteers to conduct part of the training at home, thereby shortening the traditional classroom portion. This will also allow volunteers to receive additional training during the classroom portion for special units like that of spiritual care provider.
The focus of the DR Ministry remains the same—sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we provide physical relief to those impacted by disasters.
The SBCV is excited about the future of its Disaster Relief Ministry and hopes to see many more SBCV churches and volunteers involved in this critical opportunity.
To learn more about Disaster Relief and how you can receive training, visit: sbcv.org/dr