Just outside my office door, there is a large map of Illinois with each county outlined and labeled. Every county has been shaded in to represent the percentage of the population who are Southern Baptist.
When I heard about the April 9 tornado outbreak and where it occurred, my thoughts immediately went to the map. The northern part—the region most affected by the storms—has counties in white (no IBSA churches), dark green (one IBSA church), and a particular shade of orange denoting that just 0.5 to 0.99% of the population belongs to an IBSA church.
Disaster Relief spring callouts like the one in northern Illinois after the tornadoes are nothing unusual. In April 2013, chaplains and mudout teams responded to the Peoria area after widespread flooding. March 2012 saw a tornado strike Harrisburg, destroying homes and businesses. Chaplains and chainsaw teams were called in to comfort and to clear debris.
But this ministry opportunity is different. The previous spring callouts in our state have served areas with a much higher ratio of IBSA churches. These most recent tornadoes touched the northern part of Illinois, the part with little Southern Baptist or other evangelical presence.
In Ogle County, where the town of Rochelle is located, there is just one IBSA church to serve the county’s 52,000 people. In DeKalb County, home to the Fairdale community that was devastated April 9, there are just three IBSA churches with fewer than 300 resident members. DeKalb’s total population is 105,000.
Illinois Baptists now have an opportunity to reach out to the unreached in new ways. Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked in Rochelle the weekend after the storms. Disaster Relief coordinators monitored the situation in Fairdale, but found it was completely destroyed, leaving nothing large enough for chainsaw crews to remove.
Not only were IBSA Disaster Relief teams at work, but teams from other evangelical denominations also were on the scene. Their presence is something new for an area that consists mainly of Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.
Illinois Baptists have a unique opportunity to share Christ’s love in a unique time of need. My prayer is that we take this opportunity to minister to the peoples in these and surrounding communities, sharing Christ—perhaps, as never before—in this region of our state.
Lisa Sergent is director of communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.