By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MOUNT JULIET — Nearly 300 volunteers from every area of the state flocked to the Missions Mobilization Center in Mount Juliet July 14 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief.
“We’re here today because for 40 years Tennessee Baptists have been responding in a united, cooperative manner to disaster,” observed Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“From earthquakes to tsunamis, from floods to fires, from tornados to ice storms and terrorist attacks, the men and women of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief have shown up to assist,” he continued.
Jones said TBDR “is built upon people loving God and loving their fellow man.”
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief got its start in 1978 when a tanker exploded in Waverly killing 16 people and injuring about 200 more (see story). The Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Board (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) sent $2,000 to First Baptist Church, Waverly, to help disaster victims. A few months later, the first vehicle for disaster relief was purchased with funds from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
“Today is a celebration of what God has done through you as you have loved people and shared the good news of Jesus Christ with your fellow man,” Jones said.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, noted that his family was helped by DR volunteers when his mother’s home in Alabama was flooded several years ago by Hurricane Ivan. “If I can eat disaster relief food, I can spend my ministry and this position I’m in now washing the feet of DR workers,” Davis told those in attendance.
He observed that whenever he sees a Southern Baptist Convention official standing for a photo opportunity in the White House with the President of the United States, “I see the men who are covered in dust at the other end of a chain saw. I see the people that are standing in a feeding unit for 13 hours a day feeding thousands of people. I see the men and women doing the hard work day after day.
“Whatever DR is now nationally, it’s because of good churches, great associations, and DR teams showing up and staying until all the work is done, after everybody else has walked out.”
The program featured testimonials from DR volunteers representing the past, the present and the future (see quotes from speakers).
Volunteers stressed that while being “the hands and feet” of Christ is why they do what they do, the most important thing they do is to show the love of Jesus and share the gospel.
Tim Bearden, former state DR director and now manager of the TBMB conference centers, noted that while volunteers may provide food and services such as chain saw work and other needed tasks, the main thing is, “We share the Bread of Life with people.”
David Acres, retired state DR director, agreed. “Disaster relief is the things we do to build bridges and relationships so we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us.”
Jim Ramey, DR director for Sullivan Baptist Association, based in Kingsport, stressed they provide meals in the name of Jesus. “If we ever get away from that, we might as well stay home.
“God is the reason we do what we do. As long as we honor Him, everything will be okay.”
Many of the speakers shared stories of “miracles” that happened on disaster relief sites that only could have come from God. Don Owen, DR director for Nolachucky Baptist Association, based in Morristown, told of supplies they received without any knowledge they had been sent, just when they were needed the most.
Volunteers expressed hope for the future of DR because of the involvement of college-age students in recent months, especially those involved in Baptist Collegiate Ministries on college campuses across the state.
“We are not going to live forever,” observed Jean Canida of First Baptist Church, Mount Juliet. “There are always going to be disasters. The next generation must be brought along to pick up the staff and lead,” she said.
Stanley Roach of Lyon’s Creek Baptist Church, Strawberry Plains, agreed. He urged older volunteers “to share our skills with the next generation. We need to take advantage of this.”
Chuck Thacker of First Baptist Church, Gallatin, served as a crew chief for a team of BCM students recently that was tasked with hanging sheetrock. “They were fantastic. After two hours of training, they were hanging everything.”
Sarah Layne is a BCM student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who has gotten involved in DR. Noting that she was not a Christian before going to college, she later accepted Christ and went on a DR mission trip. “It’s been amazing to learn how to be a servant to people who really need it and to now use my hands to help people rebuild their homes.”
In closing, Davis told volunteers that the 40th anniversary celebration was “a dry run” for the Golden Jubilee (50th) Anniversary in 2028. “We are looking forward to what God is going to do. Thank you for the way you and your churches give through the Cooperative Program, to the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, and directly to the TBMB. It is the financial fuel that keeps this infra-structure in place to keep us all moving together in unity.”