By Randy C. Davis
TBC Executive Director
Dear Tennessee Baptists,
You no doubt know of the devastating news this week coming out of Gatlinburg and Sevier County. As someone who called that area home for 20 years, it has been especially gutting to me to hear the reports. Jeanne and I have so many friends in that area and know personally many of the families affected. Some have lost everything.
However, I want you to know I have never been prouder to be a Tennessee Baptist. Because your churches gave through the Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, Tennessee Baptists were on the scene responding to people’s spiritual and physical needs less than 24 hours after the fires destroyed lives and property. In fact, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board missionaries were able to get to the sites of three of our Tennessee Baptists churches ministering to pastors while their destroyed buildings still smoldered.
Here’s what we know as of today.
- There are seven confirmed fatalities in the greater Gatlinburg area.
- There are several people still unaccounted for.
- Thousands are currently displaced.
- More than 700 building have been damaged or destroyed.
In terms of Tennessee Baptists helping…
- Sevier Country Association of Baptists/FBC Sevierville DR teams and volunteers fed 1,400 evacuees Tuesday night, and have provided 600 meals to National Guardsmen going door-to-door looking for survivors or victims.
- Nolachucky Baptist Association had equipment on hand to help the fire department clear away debris blocking access to affected areas.
- More than $20,000 in special gifts have poured in over the last 24 hours from individuals and churches through Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief that will help in what many have described as a long-term reclamation project.
- Disaster relief teams are on standby to move on sight as soon as the needs assessments are completed.
- Pray. Always the top priority. Disasters create unique needs but also opportunities to share the love of Christ.
- Give. The most tangible way to help is through financially gifts. Frankly, this is always the greatest need. Every disaster is different and different needs arise. The availability of cash allows disaster relief teams the flexibility to meet needs unique to that particular disaster. Visit TNDisasterRelief.org/contributions for more information.
- Wait. Yes, wait. A needs assessment can’t be done until after first responders have cleared the area. It takes several days to identify and prioritize how best to use available volunteers. Help arriving too early often can’t be administered.
- Prepare. There is always a need for qualified volunteers trained in a number of different response opportunities. Visit TNDisasterRelief.org or write firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Go. Most disasters have long-term implications and one of the hallmarks of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief is that Tennessee Baptists are there working long after others have left. Victims have needs long after the initial disaster and there is always a need for people to help, especially months down the road.
Our Disaster Relief Director Wes Jones has compiled a list of other tangible ways in which people can help and we can make that list available once we have a better understanding of what the needs are. We want to make sure you can have confidence that you are helping in the most effective ways you possibly can.
I am so thankful to God that there was not a great loss of life and that He sent rains to extinguish the fires. As Sevier Country DOM Robert Nichols said Wednesday, “If God had not sent the rain when He did there wouldn’t be anything left of Sevier Country.”
Brothers, this journey can sometimes be a challenge, can’t it? But I want you to know I count it all joy to be on this journey with you.