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Dedicated volunteers respond to varied needs through Disaster Relief

By Barbara Denman        

August 28, 2012


Mark DiSclafani is an eye surgeon, dedicating his career to improving the eyesight of grateful patients.


Craig Aldridge is an engineer with a heart for those with disabilities, always looking for ways to help those in need.


Troy Willrick serves as director of emergency services at Daytona International Speedway, planning and strategizing for what he hopes will never happen.


Hailing from different backgrounds and having unique personalities, skills and interests, each of these three men serves as a Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, poised and ready to respond when disaster strikes.


They are among the 5,915 trained disaster relief volunteers serving as God’s compassionate people on behalf of Florida Baptists in the midst of a crisis. Men and women, young and old; they all share a heart to reach out to those in need in Christ’s name.


“The Lord was instrumental in bringing together diverse people as a team” to do His work, said eye surgeon DiSclafani as he thinks about his own disaster relief team, which includes a pastor, an engineer, a mechanic and a county sheriff.


The volunteers focus their efforts to help victims without insurance or other resources to deal with the calamity, suffering and hopelessness caused by a disaster.


“I’m always fascinated by the broad experience of our volunteers,” said Fritz Wilson, who directs disaster relief for Florida Baptists and will in October head the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief.


“Maybe Jesus called ‘regular guys’ to be His closest disciples to show us we have to be obedient to His call because He has equipped us to do what He calls us to do,” he added.


The “regular” people who come together to serve in a particular disaster may be “as different as night and day,” said volunteer Troy Willrick, who has been involved with the disaster relief ministry since 2007. In just a few hours, these diverse individuals “gel” as they begin “moving in the same direction and working together,” he explained.


A true camaraderie develops as team members focus on the needs of those they have come to serve.


The number of disaster relief volunteers has steadily increased since 2000, when Florida Baptists had fewer than 1,000 volunteers. Since 2000, these individuals have responded to 74 disasters, totaling 110,000 volunteer days and more than one million volunteer hours.


“We spend so much of our time in our daily lives being self-serving,” explained Willrick. “Disaster Relief is an opportunity to be other-focused. It’s an opportunity to give back and serve.”


When a hurricane moves ashore, when the tornado unleashes its fury, when the river overflows its banks, these disaster relief volunteers leave their lives, families and jobs to meet physical needs and offer the spiritual hope that only Christ can provide.


“It’s extremely rewarding to be able to come, help people that are down and out and show a Christian spirit to these people facing disaster by letting them know you care,” explained engineer Craig Aldridge, a member of Woodland Community Church in Bradenton and a disaster relief volunteer since 2004.


“There’s a special feeling helping people who genuinely need the help.”


Along with meeting physical needs, disaster relief volunteers always share a verbal witness for Jesus Christ.


In rural Alabama, a disaster relief team led by Florida Baptist Jim Nichols, met a widow whose house had been severely damaged by fallen trees, In the late stages of lung cancer, the widow, confined to her bed, was eating Pop-Tarts when the volunteers reached her home. In addition to the volunteers’ act of compassion by removing tree debris from her home, they responded to her simple request for fried chicken. Returning with the iconic Southern delicacy, they were able to share a gospel witness with the woman who had never professed faith in Jesus.


Since 2000, the gospel has been shared more than 4,000 times with people whose lives have been torn apart by disaster and then helped by Florida Baptists’ disaster relief volunteers. More than 600 have made professions of faith.


Additionally, as Florida Baptists have toiled in Haiti, following the devastating earthquake in 2010, approximately 162,000 have made professions of faith, and more than 17,000 have been baptized.  


Growing exponentially since 2000, Florida Baptists’ Disaster Relief ministry continues to refine responses as needs and experience dictate.


For example, DiSclafani, who has been involved in disaster relief since 2005, hopes to begin using his medical skills to train other volunteers as they respond to disaster. Willrick hopes his experience at the Speedway will offer new and innovative ways to respond in the midst of a crisis.


The Maguire State Mission Offering helps provide operational expenses so that Disaster Relief volunteers and equipment can be deployed immediately following a disaster. This year, $75,000 from the state mission offering is earmarked for Disaster Relief.


“Each Florida Baptist who gives to the state mission offering becomes a part of God’s work,” said a thankful Wilson.


The funds, he said, “allow us to do more work in the name of God.”

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