My 12 years of serving as Disaster Relief Director for the Florida Baptist Association (hurricanes Andrew through Katrina) has been an emotional roller coaster. I’m not suffering from PTSD, but I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff. But there’s so much that makes it worthwhile. Aside from the ministry, the practical experience I’ve gained in working with volunteers is priceless. I rely on it almost daily today. You see, managing paid staff is pretty easy. At the end of the day, they either do what you say or get fired.
Not so much with volunteers.
I sometimes get asked what is the highest (or lowest) memory in my disaster relief experience. In this post, I want to share the highest.
First Some Context
The real work of disaster relief is more than the sterile stuff you see on TV. After the cameras and reporters are gone and the waters have receded, we embark on the “mud out” work. It’s actually more than mud. It’s a combination of mud, salt water, seaweed, dead fish, and yes sewage. It has baked in a closed up house for about a week. It would gag a maggot. But it has to be cleaned up
Imagine working in that environment. Now imagine how you look after working all day cleaning up that crap (literally) in the heat and humidity.
Baptist Women (and men) to the Rescue
To say that we are nasty when we get back to camp at the end of the day is an understatement. But that’s about to change as we are greeted by the cheerful team of laundry volunteers. They’re rigged up with custom built trailers. Shower trailers, laundry trailers, or some combination thereof. There’s washing machines lined up down one side and dryers down the other.
After a (usually) hot shower, our filthy clothes are tagged as we retire to a time of worship, debriefing session, and a nice sleeping bag – usually on a gym floor. The next morning, the clothes that we dropped off the night before is bagged and tagged with our name. Nice and fresh. The laundry volunteers have been up ALL NIGHT washing our clothes that were previously only fit for a hazmat unit. God bless them. They’re the real champions of disaster relief!
One Day Was Special
Somewhere, someone in a Southern Baptist Church leading a group of “Mission Friends” (that’s pre-teen girls – Google it!) got an idea for ministry. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t expensive. But it was POWERFUL beyond belief.
One day when we picked up our bagged and tagged laundry, something was different. Instead of the usual white kitchen trash bag, our clothes were bagged in … a white kitchen trash bag… BUT they had been Sharpie’d with colorful (and decidedly feminine) graffiti
- You’re Our Hero!
- God Bless You!
- We’re Praying For You!
- Thank You For Your Service!
And so forth. Every man broke out in tears. We were no longer tired – we were inspired.
I so wish I could find that Mission Friends group to let them know the impact they had.
How About You?
Do you sometimes feel you can’t do anything significant for the Kingdom? Don’t be fooled. You can! You may never know (on this side of heaven) how your simple act of kindness can impact others.
- Offer the use of a cell phone charger at the hospital waiting room
- Thank a Veteran for his/her service
- Call one of your school teachers and thank them
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