By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
CLEVELAND — Matt Ward, pastor of West Cleveland Baptist Church, was briefly out of sight. But he made sure he wasn’t out of mind.
Ward recently returned from a week-long stay in storm-ravaged Houston, where he served as the team leader for one of the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief units in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
During his stint in Texas, Ward diligently updated his congregation on the details of the relief efforts by posting videos, blogs, and photos on the church’s website.
“One of the most important parts about me going out to the missions field is being able to tell the stories to those who maybe haven’t gone out or are timid about it,” said Ward. “If you don’t really have a passion for missions, it’s probably because you haven’t really understood what missions is all about.”
By sharing images and details from Houston, Ward helped the West Cleveland Baptist members travel vicariously to the streets and houses that had been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
“It’s really good for the folks at my church to be able to see the pictures, hear the voices, and hear the stories,” said Ward.
“And it’s also been neat to watch the (church members) kind of catch the vision of what we’re doing in terms of the relief efforts.”
Ward has been the pastor at West Cleveland Baptist for about five years, and he has also served with NAMB as a Chaplin for the Tennessee Army National Guard. He said his desire to provide relief to others — and to share the gospel while doing so — led him to get involved with DR.
“It was a matter of seeing the opportunity to get out and love your neighbor,” said Ward. “And what an awesome time to go out and share the love of Christ with somebody: When they are in their darkest moment.”
Ward’s first experience as a DR member came several years ago, when he was sent to New York after Hurricane Sandy.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the great command — love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself,” he said. “(DR work is) a great opportunity to go out and do both those things.”
When Ward heard about the relief efforts in Houston, he jumped at the chance.
“Our association (CrossNet Baptist Network) started putting together these trips to go to Houston, and Randy Bonner, who is overseeing those efforts, reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to go,” said Ward. “And I said I would. So, he got me spun up on what I needed to do.”
Ward traveled to Houston with about 10 other people, representing a handful of different churches. Ward and his team were stationed at University Baptist Church during their week-long stay.
“It was neat to see the partnership and cooperation from the different churches. … We were all there for one common goal and one common mission: Working together to glorify God.”
Ward had not previously served as a team leader, and said it was a challenging — but rewarding — assignment. His duties ranged from taking care of the team’s paperwork to providing directions to working in the homes.
West Cleveland Baptist has historically been faithful to support missions work from a financial standpoint, Ward said, but many members of the congregation haven’t had a specific connection to those who are out in the field. But Ward said he hopes his updates from Houston, especially the photos and videos, helped changed that.
Ward said he hopes to to serve with DR again in the future.
“My heart is to lead and shepherd the people of God at West Cleveland Baptist Church,” said Ward. “But as I have opportunities to do a (stint) with DR here and there, to do a small part, I’d love to go out and do that. There are limits, of course, to how often I can do that and still be an effective shepherd of my church.
“Hopefully, once or twice a year, I’d like to continue to go out into the missions field, whether that’s DR or partnering with a church plant or going to Nepal,” he said.
“This year, there was a lot of need for DR, and I just can’t imagine turning a blind eye to that.”