By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
For years, Southern Baptists have taken pride in disaster relief. Even when Southern Baptists were known for their infighting among themselves, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was still viewed with respect and admiration across the nation.
When there was a disaster, the volunteers who wore yellow disaster relief T-shirts and caps were a welcome sight to people who had experienced a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or any other event that disrupted lives.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was born in 1967. Today it encompasses 70,000 trained volunteers in all 50 states and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chain saw, mud-out, childcare, and more.
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief has existed since 1978 and will celebrate its 40th anniversary on July 14 at the Missions Mobilization Center in Mount Juliet.
Despite the long and treasured legacy of disaster relief, its current status in the Southern Baptist Convention has some Southern Baptists confused.
Since the mid-1990s, the North American Mission Board has assisted in coordinating the work of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief through Baptist state conventions.
For some reason, however, the North American Mission Board decided to develop a new entity called Send Relief. It is a separate corporation from NAMB, but is governed by NAMB trustees. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the two names (Disaster Relief and Send Relief) are very similar. Though Send Relief encompasses a variety of ministries, it does have a disaster relief element, geared primarily to non-trained volunteers. In essence, Send Relief is capitalizing on the success of SBDR over the years.
I’m all for Send Relief as it deals with poverty, human trafficking, foster care, and other important concerns, but it does not need a DR element. We already have it.
Disaster relief, as we have known it for more than 50 years across the SBC and 40 years in Tennessee, is not broken. It’s still extremely effective, thanks primarily to the state DR directors across the nation. DR has even expanded as teams are now encouraged to use non-credentialed or spontaneous volunteers.
If you “Google” Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, it will take you to their website. But on the website, it refers people to their respective state conventions for training and information on how to become a volunteer.
It also notes that people can give to disaster relief through the state conventions, but gives an option of donating through their website. Yet, when you click on “Give to our hurricane response efforts,” it takes you to a Send Relief page.
Southern Baptists are confused. We recently saw a Facebook message from a retired SBC agency employee who wrote, “Hey, Baptist friends! Here’s a question from someone who’s pretty much unplugged from Baptist news: Has the old Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry been rolled into the Send Relief initiative? Thanks!”
When someone answered, “Technically, no,” she responded, “Confused. I sent money last year for disaster response following one of the hurricanes. The return information from NAMB was Send Relief stuff.”
If this person is confused, so are others.
The graphic on this page demonstrates the differences and similarities between Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Send Relief, and Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. The charts on SBDR and Send Relief were provided by David Melber, president of Send Relief. The Tennessee Baptist DR information was supplied by Wes Jones, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief specialist.
Examine the graphic. Hopefully, it will clear up any confusion you may have.
One thing is clear. As a new tornado/hurricane season begins, you can count on Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief to be there when needed. We have a 40-year track record that speaks for itself.
For more about Tennessee Baptist DR, contact Wes Jones at email@example.com or 712-253-4408.