As a photographer with the International Mission Board (IMB), I have had the privilege of working alongside Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) partners on numerous projects in Asia.
For more than 50 years these “yellow shirt” volunteers from many state conventions have been among the earliest responders to natural disasters, both at home and around the world. In fact, SBDR has grown to become the third-largest disaster relief organization in the U.S., with nearly 70,000 Southern Baptists across the country currently trained to work in disaster situations.
Their impact on global missions work has been considerable. In 2020 alone, Southern Baptist volunteers worked more than 457,000 hours, prepared almost 720,000 meals, presented the gospel nearly 5,500 times and have seen more than 800 professions of faith.
When Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) tore through the Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, more than 600,000 people were displaced and the death toll climbed over 5,000. More than 13 million people were affected by the storm – 4.4 million of them displaced, according to United Nations reports. More than 1 million homes were damaged or destroyed.
The IMB responded immediately alongside SBDR and national Baptist partners in the Philippines and other Asian countries to bring food, water and basic life necessities to these communities. Together they demonstrated how effectively these groups could work as part of a larger, global disaster response by the international Baptist community that multiplied Southern Baptists’ impact.
Journalists (based out of Cebu city, Philippines) covering this event produced numerous stories, photo galleries and interactive features, with an emphasis on storytelling and strong visual media to walk viewers through the entire disaster relief process as it unfolded day by day. New stories were uploaded from the field almost daily to introduce people and places impacted by the disaster and to convey a sense of immediacy to the viewer. Social media was used to share these new stories as quickly and widely as possible. The stories also served to educate churches and individual supporters that disaster relief is a long-term process that extends far beyond the initial recovery efforts that get covered by the world’s press. In addition to immediate disaster relief needs, there is an ongoing need for long-term work and volunteers.
Every time I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside these volunteers, I have been struck by how faithfully these men and women modeled Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:12, where he writes: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And then later in verses 23-24: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Today, Southern Baptists can support disaster relief work through Send Relief, SBDR and their state Baptist conventions. Send Relief works with SBDR teams and state conventions, as well as global partners to respond to crises.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hugh Johnson* is a photographer with the International Mission Board.)