MOORE, Okla. – As Corey Callens wades through the piles of broken furniture, brick, wood and toys that used to be part of his home, he stops every so often to pick up something shiny.
“The shiny pieces fool you,” Callens said.
The shredded children’s books, clothing and video games scattered throughout the neighborhood are replaceable; seven championship rings from his high school and University of Oklahoma football days are not.
A team of seven Southern Baptists from northern Texas helped Callens and his wife Marisha search for irreplaceable memorabilia May 24 and begin the cleanup process from the historic EF5 tornado that hit May 20.
Of the North Carolina volunteers to respond are a few small teams specializing in debris removal.
“I like to tell our team that they’re short-term missionaries,” said Joe Henond of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, the team’s blue hat. “That’s what they are. We’re here for a short period of time, but we’re missionaries just like the people overseas. It allows people to come and do work and let their work be their testimony.”
Henond believes helping disaster survivors retrieve personal keepsakes like Callens’ championship football rings can play a key part in the healing process.
“The people going through this are so devastated that they need to see a ray of hope,” he said. “When they can see that ray of hope and we’re doing what we’re doing for Jesus’ sake, the Holy Spirit is going to work.”
Henond and nearly 200 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers mark the most significant SBDR movement to date in the impacted areas as rescue efforts end and significant cleanup begins.
Southern Baptists of Texas, the Texas Baptist Men and state conventions in Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina and Kansas-Nebraska are serving in Moore. Meanwhile in Shawnee, 140 volunteers from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, were working May 24. The Oklahoma SBDR mobile kitchen had prepared more than 32,000 meals in the area.
“The focus today is getting teams into the affected area, getting our yellow shirts on the ground,” said Eddie Blackmon, the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief coordinator. “Ninety percent of the jobs will be debris removal. We’re going to assist families in getting to their personal items as best we can.”
Chaplains continue to minister to families of the 24 people killed in the storm, making plans to attend funerals that began May 23, many at First Baptist of Moore, the SBDR incident command location.
Photo by John Swain
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Gary Axton from Lubbock, Texas, leads his unit in devotion before recovery work in tornado-stricken Moore, Okla. A member of Heights Fellowship Baptist Church, Axton is among hundreds of SBDR volunteers responding to the devastation.
“Today will be the next step,” said Susan “Bunny” Yekzaman, a DR chaplain from First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla. “We’ve had the chance to work with them through every hurdle and now this will be the biggest one.”
Yekzaman shared the experience of being with a mother whose child died in the storm.
“I’m here to walk through this with you,” Yekzaman told her as they embraced. The mother replied, “I don’t think I can walk; I’m going to have to crawl.”
“Then I’ll crawl with you,” Yekzaman said, falling to her knees with the grieving parent.
Seeing so many volunteers in her neighborhood, said Marisha Callens, has taught her the importance of helping others.
“I really don’t know [why people would come to help us], but I’m very grateful,” Callens said. “They’re lending a helping hand and they’re total strangers.”
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers and chaplains, and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit
namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Donate by phone at (866) 407-NAMB (6262) or by mail at NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.” To find out how to help through N.C. Baptist Men, visit www.baptistsonmission.org/oktornado. Donations can be made to the “Oklahoma Midwest Tornado Fund.” Mail to: NCBM Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512, or donate online by clicking the “Donations” area when you visit the link above. Also you can follow NCBM on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ncmissionsdisasterrelief.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)