North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) staff and volunteers were honored during the 32nd annual Martin Luther King Triangle Interfaith Prayer Breakfast Jan. 16 for their service during the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck several Raleigh communities last year on April 16.
Bruce E. Lightner, chairman of the Raleigh Martin Luther King Celebration Committee, lives in a Raleigh neighborhood that was in the storm’s path.
He still remembers how frightened and worried he was for the safety of those in his community when he first saw the unimaginable destruction caused by the tornado.
“It looked like a bomb had exploded in my community,” Lightner said. “There was devastation everywhere.”
The tornado that hit Raleigh was one of at least 28 tornadoes that touched down in North Carolina that day and killed 24 people throughout the state. Nine months later, the destruction still seems unimaginable to Lightner. Multiple homes in his community were destroyed and many others severely damaged. Residential streets were littered with downed trees, power lines, and cars crushed under the weight of fallen trees and debris.
In the blink of an eye, Lightner’s quiet neighborhood was transformed into something that resembled a war zone. The damage left many of his friends and neighbors without food, water and shelter.
But it was not long before NCBM volunteers arrived on the scene to help with recovery efforts. Lightner said the speedy response and a willingness to get right to work separated NCBM from other relief agencies.
“The morning after the storm had passed these people were in our neighborhoods bringing comfort, service and hope,” he said. “They did not need meetings or press conferences; they did not need anyone’s permission except the Lord’s.”
In his remarks, Lightner thanked NCBM for the swift work in clearing trees from homes and driveways, for bringing hot food and water to people, and for helping victims find hotels and shelters.
“I rise this morning to simply say thank you to a group of people who did not live in Raleigh and certainly did not live in my community, but who came to our rescue when everybody else was still in a state of shock,” Lightner said.
Within hours of the tornado outbreak, NCBM volunteers fanned out across the state to help those in need. Hundreds of volunteers helped repair homes, removed fallen trees and debris, located shelters for victims, served on feeding teams, and assisted with mobile shower/laundry units. NCBM served more than 79,000 meals to tornado victims and completed more than 1,400 work requests. Volunteers also led devotions, passed out Bibles, worked with children and, most importantly, shared the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director-treasurer, said he is honored and humbled by the recognition. Brunson said Martin Luther King’s life of service toward others was driven by his faith in God and is a good example to follow. “Dr. King taught that service requires a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love,” he said.
Brunson added that the volunteers who serve with NCBM do so out of the same passion and love for God that motivated King. “There were thousands of men, women and students who served after the April tornadoes and they were serving out of a heart full of grace and a soul generated by Jesus’ love,” he said.
Baptist Men efforts are supported through the North Carolina Missions Offering (ncmissionsoffering.org).