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Florida Baptists poised to aid Oklahoma

By Joni B. Hannigan
JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Putting out a call for prayer and direct giving, Florida Baptist leaders said 5,000 trained volunteers are ready to respond in a physical way to the destruction caused by the deadly tornado in Oklahoma.

But the first response is always prayer, said Craig Culbreth, lead strategist of the missional support group for the Florida Baptist Convention.
“Pray, give your time to pray for those in need,” Culbreth told Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers May 22.

Dozens were killed as a historic tornado moved through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, Okla., Monday afternoon May 20. By Tuesday morning the death toll was reported at 51 and climbing, but the medical examiner's office later revised that to at least 24 deaths, according to the Associated Press.

Many of the victims were children, after the tornado severely damaged two elementary schools. The search for survivors continued Tuesday, and it was unclear how many could still be trapped in rubble, dead or alive.

With lightning flashing and rain dumping water on rescue and clean-up crews, forecasters warned the danger wasn’t over with “large and devastating” tornadoes still possible in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Culbreth said Florida Baptist Disaster Relief leadership was in communication with Oklahoma’s disaster relief, offered physical and financial assistance–as well as prayers for the many affected.

Florida Baptist Disaster Relief operates two mass feeding units, support trailers and a box truck with extra supplies, water purification units, shower units, a command trailer for feeding operations, chainsaw units to clear sites; a damage assessment team to begin to grid areas and assess individual jobs; and emergency communications and security teams.

Chaplains are also a high priority on Disaster Relief teams.

For now, Culbreth urged prayer and financial support as “partner states” closest to Oklahoma mobilize in response.
Still, “prepare to go,” he said, noting Florida Baptist volunteers are able to assist.

“We have not been called and our prayer is that the needs can be met by the volunteers in Oklahoma and nearby states, but if not, we will go. So, let’s be ready,” Culbreth said.

Culbreth pledged to keep Floridians abreast of the needs.

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter expressed concern for the tragedy in the nation's heartland.

"On behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, our prayers and thoughts are with the families and victims of the tragic tornado in Moore, Okla.," Luter said in a statement May 21. "Not only our prayers but disaster relief teams from across the SBC are there to assist in any way possible. May God give the citizens of Moore, Okla., comfort, strength and hope during this trying time."

Oklahoma’s Gov. Fallin said at least 237 people were injured as the two-mile wide tornado stayed on the ground for 40 minutes, cutting a 22-mile path in a heavily populated area. An early estimate rated the tornado as an EF4, CNN said.

The North American Mission Board, in charge of the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief operation, used Twitter Monday night to signal an exclusive allotment of funds to Oklahoma.

Nationally, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the largest mobilizers of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

NAMB’s Disaster Relief Executive Director Fritz Wilson appealed for Southern Baptists to pray for the people of Moore, Okla. as a response was prepared.

“Prayer is the biggest thing people can do now,” said Wilson, as emergency workers and first responders continued to search the area for survivors. “The total loss, the loss of a child or other family member, is one of the hardest things the survivors will have to deal with. The emotional toll is devastating.”

Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, circulated a letter Monday night saying he was "deeply devastated by the destruction and loss of life" caused by the Moore tornado as well as those that struck Sunday in nearby areas.

"I pray God gives us the strength to pull together, as His people, to turn this tragedy into a moment that gives Him glory," Jordan wrote. "Our disaster relief teams are on the scene of every area affected in Oklahoma, and we will not leave the scenes until every family is served."

Jordan asked Southern Baptists to pray for everyone affected by the disaster and to consider making a contribution to the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief efforts.

"May we be the hands and feet of Christ during these crucial days," Jordan said.

Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief teams already were responding to severe weather from Sunday in Shawnee, Edmond and Little Axe when the Moore tornado hit Monday afternoon.

"Within moments of hearing of the destruction in Moore, we put together a rapid response volunteer team to help with the cleanup and recovery efforts," Sam Porter, the BGCO's disaster relief director, said Monday night. "Our teams are on the ground now surveying the area and helping where we can be of most assistance."

At least 80 volunteers from Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief had been deployed since Sunday—to assist with earlier weather incidents in the area—including a mobile command center, a mobile kitchen and feeding units, chainsaw teams and about 10 chaplains.

Thanking in advance those who are looking for a way to help, Culbreth urged readiness.

“Yesterday it was Oklahoma and tomorrow is not known,” Culbreth said. “Let us be ready as we respond to God’s call to bring the ‘Help, Healing and Hope’ that comes through Jesus Christ in the form of a ‘Yellow Shirt.’”

Traveling to Oklahoma to assist in recovery will be costly, Culbreth said. “Please prayerfully consider how you can help a state team travel to and from sites during times of disaster.”

NOTE: A “Yellow Shirt” is a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer dressed in a distinctive shirt with a logo easily recognized throughout disaster zones. Yellow Shirts make up the majority of the 5,000 trained volunteers in Florida, and are supervised by “blue hats” and “white hats.”

To donate to help with the Oklahoma disaster:
Go to https://www.flbaptist.org/OnLineGiving/MakeaDonationNow.aspx and donate any amount. Designate gift to Disaster Relief. All gifts will be used to assist Oklahoma.

Go to http://www.okdisasterhelp.com/ and give directly to The Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief.

Or call the Florida Baptist Convention and ask to donate to Florida Baptist Disaster Relief. Call 1-800-226-8584, ext. 3046.
[With Baptist Press reporting.]

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