Brother, Can You Lend a Hand?
By Ken Walker-
When tornadoes touched down just south of Oklahoma City in May, the federal disaster agency often known by its acronym (FEMA) responded, along with state officials, Red Cross and others.
While no one discounts the vital nature of such assistance, equally—perhaps even more—impressive are the countless numbers of volunteers who responded. Without expecting pay, they fed people whose homes were damaged or destroyed, cleaned up debris and rebuilt various structures.
Although there were more involved, through writing for their publications, I am personally aware of three of the denominations who sent hundreds of workers and thousands of dollars of financial aid and supplies.
Aside from moral or political issues, the SBC has one of the most impressive disaster relief operations in the nation. Just ask the emergency responders after the 9-11 terrorist attack on New York. So many saw the familiar yellow hats volunteers wear on such occasions that a contingent wound up on David Letterman’s show.
In the Oklahoma City area before the EF-5 tornado struck May 20, the Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief team had already mobilized volunteers, deploying at least 80 in the first two days. The SBC’s North American Mission Board dispatched relief officials from its headquarters near Atlanta the day after the storm.
Since the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) is based just west of Oklahoma City, one might assume its response was a given. Not when an area is still reeling from a mammoth disaster.
In addition to the IPHC coordinating assistance from beyond the immediate area, the Southgate Holiness Pentecostal Church formed a partnership with the Red Cross to open an emergency aid station.
Volunteers staffed the station around the clock, serving meals and providing supplies to area residents. That led one Red Cross volunteer to comment, “It’s so inspiring to see everyone come together to help the people of this community. That’s why I love doing this.”
A Growing Effort
The Foursquare Church also responded to the disaster. Though much smaller than the SBC, the California-based disaster team sent a total of 28 responders (primarily chaplains) to offer counseling and comfort.
In addition, seven “Disaster Go Teams” cleaned up and rebuilt. These groups took chainsaws to downed trees, painted buildings, installed drywall, and handled other tasks.
Their efforts symbolized Foursquare’s growing disaster relief effort. Last year it responded to 16 global and domestic disasters and spent more than $1 million providing various kinds of relief.
I didn’t cover the Moore disaster directly. However, the previous month I wrote two stories after a much smaller (and lesser known) disaster destroyed a Foursquare church in Arkansas.
I learned about the Moore outreach recently while working on a story about Foursquare’s steps to improve the efficiency of its disaster operations.
Until then, I didn’t realize that its outreach was so relatively new, developing gradually after many churches and volunteers responded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The denomination has implemented an impressive initiative that has training some 1,200 chaplains and other volunteers to respond to a crisis. Half a dozen more classes are scheduled this year.
Mike Mercer, the director of an anti-human trafficking initiative who helped spearhead post-Katrina relief, says these efforts bring intrinsic rewards while strengthening their churches.
“The thing about Foursquare is we’re family,” Mercer says. “With Foursquare, there’s always a couch to crash on. When we can come in and help as family, then we can reach out and help beyond family.”
The actions of these three groups, along with many other denominations, demonstrate the truth of Jesus’ words: When we help the “least” among us, we have done it unto Him.