Katrina proved mettle of Baptist disaster relief
Mickey Noah, Baptist Press
September 01, 2010

Katrina proved mettle of Baptist disaster relief

Katrina proved mettle of Baptist disaster relief
Mickey Noah, Baptist Press
September 01, 2010

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — “As early

as Aug. 26, we had pulled in a skeleton crew and opened the disaster operations

center (DOC),” recounted Mickey Caison, disaster relief coordinator at the

North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Alpharetta, Ga., in 2005. “We had also

called the state conventions and mobilized an incident command team.”

On Monday, Aug. 29, at about

6:10 a.m. Hurricane Katrina made its monstrous landfall in southeast Louisiana.

Packing 125 mph winds with intense central pressure, Katrina would be the third

most powerful storm to ever hit the United States — and one of the deadliest.

More than 1,800 would perish

directly in the hurricane itself or from the unprecedented flooding to follow.

Eighty percent of New Orleans and surrounding parishes were flooded when levees

broke; the putrid floodwaters — contaminated with sewage, gasoline, oil and

chemicals — lingered for weeks.

With some 300,000 homes and

businesses destroyed or damaged, Katrina left $81 billion in damages in its

wake, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Mississippi beach towns like

Gulfport and Biloxi — where the surge flooded inland as far as 12 miles — were

devastated. One-third of New Orleans’ population moved away and never returned.

Today, Caison will tell you

that just as things were never the same after Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination

or 9/11, the Gulf Coast and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) have not

been the same since Katrina.

Caison and the SBDR team

initially thought Katrina would only be a “wind event” — albeit a serious one —

with destructive wind damage predicted as far north as Jackson, Miss.

Caison and his team had

local disaster relief teams hunkered down in Mississippi and Louisiana in

addition to using three staging sites — Shocco Springs Baptist Conference

Center near Talladega, Ala., Camp Garaywa in Clinton, Miss., and a venue in

Marshall, Texas — for the scores of volunteers en route from 41 of Southern

Baptists’ state conventions.

On Tuesday, we saw the

levees break and the flooding begin in New Orleans,” said Caison, now adult

volunteer mobilization team leader at NAMB. “We saw the thousands of people

trapped in the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. We realized how

bad New Orleans was going to take it.”

Starting on the western side

of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain, and moving into southern Jefferson and

Plaquemines parishes, and west of the Mississippi River down to Houma, Southern

Baptist Disaster Relief finally was able to move in its first feeding and

chainsaw units a few days later. “On the initial push, we had 30 feeding units

deployed,” Caison said.

For 196 continuous days —

from Aug. 29, 2005, until March 12, 2006 — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was

in full operation. The DOC staff in Alpharetta, Ga., initially worked around

the clock and, later, 16-hour days.

In addition to all the SBDR

work under way in Louisiana and Mississippi, 13 other conventions also were

responding in their own states — ministering to the 1.2 million homeless

evacuees forced to leave the flooded Gulf Coast areas for places like San

Antonio, Atlanta, Minneapolis and even New York.

Into the following year,

Southern Baptist relief did not stop, but transitioned into Project NOAH (New

Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild.

NAMB file photo by John Swain

Carol Jordan of Brevard was among 21,000 Southern Baptist volunteers who traveled to the Gulf Coast after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina for disaster relief and rebuild initiatives. The volunteers garnered the White House’s commendation in a Feb. 23, 2006, report on lessons learned from the hurricane and flooding crisis across the Gulf states.

North Carolina Baptist Men

concentrated on Gulfport, where they eventually repaired or rebuilt 715 homes.

“By November and December of

2005, it was clear to us we needed a long-term rebuild program,” Caison said.

Project NOAH would be funded by the balance of some $25 million Southern

Baptists and others had generously contributed to NAMB and to their state

convention offices for Katrina relief.

Kicking off in May 2006,

Project NOAH Rebuild would draw another 26,500 volunteers from across America

to New Orleans, usually staying a week at a time, sleeping on cots or in

sleeping bags in New Orleans’ World Trade Center or at a Southern Baptist

church in St. Bernard Parish.

These NOAH Rebuild

volunteers assisted with the building or re-building of some 500 homes in New

Orleans, many located in the flood-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward area where

floodwater from the ruptured levees spilled over into neighborhood after

neighborhood. Another 26 water-damaged churches, schools and ministry centers

also were repaired under Project NOAH Rebuild.

Today, five years later —

with current responses under way in Haiti, American Samoa and in recently

flooded Iowa, Texas and Kentucky — Caison said the real-life lessons and

inspiring examples learned from Katrina have paved the way to improvements

evident in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in 2010.

Need more chaplains

Caison said Hurricane Katrina

also pointed out and solidified the need for more disaster relief chaplains, to

the point that there are now 4,000-5,000 more trained disaster relief chaplains

on standby than before Katrina.

“We’ve seen more and

stronger partnerships between NAMB, the state conventions, associations and

churches in disaster-affected areas because of Katrina,” Caison continued.

“The way we conducted our

ministry during Katrina also caused the federal and state governments to stand

up and take notice. Our relationships with FEMA and state governments changed

because they finally began to understand what Southern Baptist Disaster Relief

is about. Washington (D.C.) folks finally realized that we bring more to the

table than our relationships with the Red Cross or The Salvation Army. They

began to understand who we are and now recognize us as one of the top three

disaster relief organizations in the United States.”

Caison said Southern Baptist

relationships also blossomed after Hurricane Katrina with other evangelical

organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Blessing, Convoy of Hope and

other para-church organizations — leading to the creation of the Christian

Relief Cooperative, a group of evangelical organizations involved in disaster


The number of trained Southern

Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers has climbed to an all-time high of 95,000, a

46 percent increase over the 51,300 trained volunteers just prior to Katrina.

In fact, just in the few months following Katrina in 2005, Caison said 25,000

new volunteers were trained.

Southern Baptist Disaster

Relief’s fleet — which numbered about 800 vehicles in 2005 — has grown to 1,550


“Disaster relief continues

to evolve,” Caison reflected. “The number of state conventions that have come

on line have increased over the last 10 years. Some are still emerging.

Usually, it boils down to funding. Most state conventions operate on the

donations made during a response. If funding does not come, they cannot


Caison said Southern Baptist

disaster relief’s mantra is “serving Christ in the crisis.”

“Disaster relief will

continue to be used to kick down the doors of opportunity,” Caison said. “After

a disaster response, there are people who come up to us and say, ‘Please start

a Southern Baptist church in our community.’ We’re working harder to follow up

and do just that — to use disaster relief as a means to plant new churches.”

Caison said disaster relief’s

physical and spiritual ministries are two sides of the same coin.

“Jesus said to the 12: ‘Go

preach, share the story and heal the sick.’ He said to the 70: ‘Go heal the

sick, share the story and preach.’ We have to do both the physical and the

spiritual ministries. If we don’t, we’re just a social organization.

“As people in a disaster ask

us who we are, where we came from, etc., we can transition to sharing the gospel.

And while we’re harvesting during disaster relief, we’re also planting seeds

and watering as well. That’s who we are. That’s our DNA.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a

writer for the North American Mission Board.)