In Alaska, disaster relief looks a little different than it does in Alabama. It’s less cutting up trees, more dealing with earthquakes and forest fires and helping villages that flood when the ice melts and comes down the river.
But the factor that interested Gary Bearce in starting up a disaster relief team in the state is the same reason volunteers do disaster relief in Alabama — people are hurting and need to hear the love and hope of Jesus.
“I’ve been in this job for four years, and we started from nothing,” said Bearce, who retired from denominational work in Alaska so that he could focus on getting the disaster relief team going.
And that effort is “connected in a big way” to Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, he said. “We deeply appreciate the partnership we have with Alabama Baptist State Convention.”
In 2019, Mark Wakefield, Alabama’s lead strategist for Disaster Relief, went up to Alaska to lead a training for chaplains. The team didn’t have heavy equipment yet, but they knew there was always a need for spiritual care after a disaster.
Then with the help of funds provided by other state conventions and work from volunteers, the team got together a laundry and shower trailer they could take to disaster sites as a point of entry to the front lines for their chaplains. There was only one problem — they didn’t have a way to pull it.
And around that time, Wakefield saw Bearce again at a meeting and asked if they had any needs. Bearce hesitated at first, but when Wakefield pressed a little, he admitted they had a big need for a truck.
Wakefield came back to Alabama and talked with leadership at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and in early 2020, they were able to provide Alaska with a truck to pull their trailer.
“It gives us the chance to minister to those on the front lines as well as talk with homeowners and share the love of Christ,” Bearce said. “Getting there with that trailer as soon as possible is critical to our efforts.”
They have partnered with the Salvation Army, providing showers and laundry alongside them as they cook meals for the community. They’ve also partnered with other organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and local first responders and line crews who work to help affected communities.
“Partners are vital,” Bearce said.
And as Alaska Baptists grow their team, they’re able to do more and more. Bearce recently spent time with Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and others working in Louisiana after Hurricane Laura and got to learn more about doing need assessments and handling heavy equipment.
Bearce said he hopes in the future he will be able to bring teams from Alaska to help in the lower 48 states when there’s a need.
He also knows they’re constantly preparing in case Alaska gets another once-in-a-lifetime major earthquake, which the state has experienced in the past.
“We have small earthquakes almost every day, and they’re a reminder that another big one could be coming,” he said.