Reporter’s Notebook: Yellow shirts on the move

Meredith Flynn —  November 25, 2013

HEARTLAND | Eric Reed

Yellow_shirts_blog

Disaster Relief volunteers got to work in southern Illinois just two days after a tornado hit the area Nov. 17.

It’s a clear day in Springfield. The storms have passed. But in the third floor conference room of the IBSA Building, the effects of the tornado-band that killed six people in Illinois are real and present in the minds of those at the table. By this time on Monday morning, IBSA’s Rex Alexander has been working since just after the first storms touched down on Sunday, gathering reports from the Illinois Disaster Relief field teams on the scene, taking calls from across the nation with offers of help, and readying the response of Southern Baptists in Illinois.

In the “situation room,” the leadership team shares news of churches and members affected by the tornadoes, discusses their emergency needs, and our actions. Illinois Baptists are already headed to hard-hit communities. In at least two churches, DR workers prepare meals – more than 2,000 a day. And chainsaw teams from 13 associations are on standby for their assignments.

The yellow shirts are on the move.

What many people don’t know is that Southern Baptists nationwide have 82,000 trained volunteers. Our state conventions and associations have 1,550 mobile units for every need that arises after disaster, from childcare to showers to mobile kitchens, and more. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is the third largest relief agency, after the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. And a lot of people don’t know that.
But they do know in the northeast U.S., where our teams are present still in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and mission teams are planning return visits this summer.

And they know in New Orleans, where mission teams from churches and colleges and Campers on Mission are still helping devastated residents muck out, tear down, and rebuild eight years after Hurricane Katrina. A recent letter to the editor decried the fact that certain Catholic churches are still not repaired. The Catholics should ask the Baptists to help, the writer said, because Baptists could get the job done.

“You have changed the image of Southern Baptists in New Orleans,” SBC President and New Orleans pastor Fred Luter told Illinois Baptists during a visit here in April.

And they know in South Dakota and Colorado, where Illinois teams served last month. And they know in Moore, Oklahoma. National news anchor (and Methodist) Harry Smith said at the time of the tornado there, “…if you’re waiting for the government, you’re going to be in for an awful long wait. The Baptist men, they’re going to get it done tomorrow.”

And they know in Peoria, where spring floods drove hundreds from their homes, and Illinois Baptists were there mudding out, feeding hungry people, and sharing Christ.

And now they know in Washington and Brookport, and wherever help is needed.

The yellow shirts are on the move.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.