By Lonnie Wilkey
MOUNT JULIET — In September Wes Jones celebrated his fifth anniversary as disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
To say the former Southern Baptist missionary (along with his wife Pam) and director of missions in Iowa has been busy over those five years would be an understatement.
The humorous part is that during the interview process for the position he was told that there were not that many callouts. Most of his time would be spent training DR volunteers and having them prepared when needed. “I was told things would be pretty mellow,” he recalled with a grin.
Instead, “hectic” best describes the last five years of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief.
When Hurricanes Laura and Sally struck in late August and early September, it marked the 78th and 79th DR responses by Tennessee volunteers over the past five years. “What an adventure it has been.”
What’s more, Jones had just barely returned from a trip through Louisiana, Alabama and Florida to visit with Tennessee volunteers helping with cleanup in those areas when Hurricane Delta struck Louisiana once again last week. It will be the 80th response for Tennessee DR in five years once teams accept assignments.
To put the last five years in perspective, consider that Hurricane Delta will be the 249th official response by Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers since 1978 when it officially began with a response to a tanker explosion in Waverly. That averages out to about five responses per year since 1978.
Eighty of those responses, however, have come during the past five years, an average of 16 per year.
Jones is at a loss as to why almost a third of the total responses have come during his tenure.
“I have no idea. Some people say it’s the end of times, and the Bible does talk about that quite a bit. Things are going to be kind of crazy in the world. But the bottom line is we don’t know when Jesus is coming back,” Jones said.
“We just have to be ready all the time. But yet for us at the same time, even with all the disasters for us, it’s an opportunity to share Christ. We want to see God get the glory and the honor out of them by people coming to know Him as Savior.”
Tennessee Baptist DR will soon reach the 250 mark in total responses, although Jones estimates that in reality, they have already exceeded that number. Local DR units respond to needs in their area and don’t always report those to the state office, he said.
“I’m just so grateful for all the volunteers around Tennessee that have responded time and time and time and time and time again,” Jones said.
“You know, when we go from one disaster to another disaster, they’ve always been faithful, even though sometimes they’re tired and might want to do something else for a little while they still show up and respond.
“It’s just been incredible. Even when I think, ‘oh no, not another response,’ certainly we won’t have anybody to go to this one, they come and they respond. They’ve been faithful and God has been faithful through them, so I just appreciate them so much,” Jones said.
2020 — An especially busy year
The current year especially has been taxing on volunteers, given the worldwide pandemic that has occurred.
Prior to Hurricane Delta, Tennessee volunteers had worked 10,000 volunteer days in 2020, representing about 80,000-plus hours, by far the largest number in any single year since Jones arrived five years ago and nearly double the 5,915 days recorded in 2019.
“That’s an amazing amount of time and we still have more than two months in the year to go,” Jones observed.
“It’s just been awesome that they put that much time and that much effort into serving other people through the tornadoes, through the wind storms, through a flood or two, during the pandemic and now through hurricanes.”
During his recent trip through the hurricane ravaged areas, Jones connected with volunteers who were helping homeowners clean up and state DR leaders from Alabama and Florida.
“The Tennessee volunteers have been great,” said Mark Wakefield, lead disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists. “Everybody has enjoyed working with them,” he added.
Roy Chapman, a homeowner near Alexandria who was helped by two teams of Tennessee volunteers, was especially grateful. He had about 24 large trees in his front yard that were downed by Hurricane Laura. “I was amazed. It was a well-coordinated effort,” he said of the DR volunteers.
Though there were so many trees that were knocked down by the hurricane force winds, his home was spared. Chapman gives all the glory to God, noting that he and his wife prayed that their home would not be destroyed before they evacuated.
“God’s hand kept those trees from falling on the house,” he maintained.
David England, director of missions for William Carey Baptist Association, joined associational DR leader Darrell Haney and a team from the association. He said they had trained 11 volunteers about two weeks before heading to Louisiana. “There is a sense of excitement,” he said, noting that the team included some younger volunteers, including a young man who recently accepted Christ as his Savior.
Jamie Price, a volunteer from New Vision Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, was on her fourth DR trip. “The Lord keeps me coming back,” she affirmed.
Price had the opportunity to share the gospel with a homeowner who accepted Christ as his Savior. Though she had seen other people make decisions during DR trips, he was the first person that she actually witnessed to who made a decision. “He didn’t have a Bible so I took him one the next day,” she said.
Delton Beall, state director for Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, was appreciative of the efforts of Tennessee Baptists in helping to clean up after Hurricane Sally hit near Pensacola. “We’re very thankful that Tennessee volunteers were willing to load up and come again to Florida,” he said, noting that has become a “common practice” in recent years.
Jones reaffirmed his support of the efforts of Tennessee DR teams. “They are doing a real good job. They’re working hard and getting a lot of work done,” he said.
“More importantly, they’re having a great witness time while they’re here. We’ve seen quite a number of people come to know Christ as their Savior during the past few weeks, and for us, that’s the most important thing.”
Jones said that as of Oct 13, Florida Baptists still needed chain saw teams who could help before the end of October.
Teams are needed once again in Louisiana to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Delta, he added. Among the needs are:
• Tarping teams, flood recovery teams and chain saw teams. The highest priority is for combination teams that can do both tarping and flood recovery, he said.
• Small cooking/cleaning teams (four-six). Volunteers are needed to cook for teams at the different locations for a week at a time. These teams will be responsible for cooking and cleaning the facility to keep it sanitary because of the COVID situation, Jones said.
Jones stressed that participants in the disaster relief response to the Hurricanes must understand that this response is being conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All volunteers by virtue of their agreement to participate are indicating that they understand the enhanced danger the pandemic brings to the normal risks and dangers inherent with disaster relief work.
Volunteers are representing that they have been free from any symptoms of COVID-19 for at least the last 14 days and agree, if they become symptomatic, to immediately notify their team leader, avoid further contact with others on site, and leave as soon as possible to avoid jeopardizing others. Volunteers must practice CDC recommended guidelines whenever and wherever possible.
Volunteers interested in serving can contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or Elizabeth Holmes at email@example.com. Those interested in contributing to DR for 2020 hurricane/tropical storms can visit the website at tndisasterrelief.org and click on contributions. Checks, designated for 2020 hurricane/tropical storms, can be mailed to Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 682789, Franklin, TN 37068. B&R