Ministry of presence big part of disaster relief work

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (ABDR) teams across the state were on alert as Hurricane Nate made landfall Oct. 7 but fortunately the storm brought mostly rain as it passed through Alabama.

That was good news for the state and for ABDR teams, many of whom have been busy serving in the Fort Myers, Florida, area following Hurricane Irma.

Stanley Kilgore, pastor of Center Grove Baptist Church, Cullman, in East Cullman Baptist Association, is one those volunteers. Kilgore joined a team of volunteers from several different associations in Fort Myers in early October.

Kilgore said the experience of working with others from across Alabama was different but team members didn’t stay “strangers” for long.

‘Hands and feet’

Kilgore and fellow pastor Philip Morris, of Chulafinnee Baptist Church, Heflin, in Cleburne Baptist Association, served as chaplains, being the “hands and feet of Jesus” in Fort Myers, Morris said.

Kilgore said there were several “God moments” during their service, many that happened as he, Morris and other team members went door to door in the neighborhoods near ABDR’s administrative headquarters at McGregor Baptist Church. One was with a woman who had lost a child years ago when a tree fell on her mother’s home. When the storm knocked a tree onto her current home, memories from the past returned. She needed someone to share those emotions with and ABDR was there, Kilgore said. That happened time and time again.

“We had opportunities to witness but mostly we were able to pray with people and just listen to their stories,” Kilgore said. “Based on what we heard, we allowed ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to see what happened next.”

Kilgore said ABDR training emphasizes this “ministry of presence,” which may not sound very helpful to those who equate volunteer service with results. However, for those affected by tragedy and disaster, simply knowing someone cares means everything, Kilgore said.

Robyn Rooks, a first-time ABDR volunteer from St. Clair Baptist Association, felt that as she served. Rooks was trained in September at Valleydale Baptist Church, Birmingham, one of several emergency training sessions held following Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas and Louisiana. She traveled to Fort Myers to complete her training on an ABDR shower and laundry unit set up for volunteers housed at McGregor Baptist. At first Rooks felt under-utilized.

“I’m a people person and I like to get out and talk to people,” she said. “So I was a little discouraged thinking ‘I’m just at the church washing clothes.’ But it’s amazing how God uses the laundry people too,” she said.

Rooks felt God leading her to pray for the volunteers whose clothes she was washing. As load after load went into the washers, some 70–90 loads a day, she prayed.

“I realized that through prayer I was going out with them,” she said.

Later Rooks did go into the community and had the opportunity to talk to a young woman at one of the houses where cleanup volunteers were working. Since Rooks is active in Acteens ministry with teens at her church, First Baptist, Ashville, she felt an immediate connection with the girl, who was suffering anxiety after the hurricane’s wrath.

‘Open your eyes’

Rooks, a widow, also shared a special connection with another volunteer who had recently lost her husband. Seeing how God used her personal experiences to encourage others reinforced a truth she often teaches young people at church.

“You don’t really have to worry about whether God’s going to use you,” she said. “You just have to open your eyes and pay attention. He will provide opportunities. We just have to be willing and realize He’s in all the small things and the big things.”

Kilgore said ABDR work in Florida is a good reminder that many more people in Alabama need to be trained in disaster relief.

‘Coming together’

“There is a different work for each of us to do,” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 3:8. “It’s not a matter of one church doing it or one group doing it, it’s a lot of people coming together with one goal in mind — to minister to His community.”

Pastors who get trained lead by example, Kilgore said. That was a hard lesson he learned in the aftermath of the April 2011 tornadoes that struck in Cullman and other areas of Alabama.

“I found out during that time that you need credentials before you can enter disaster areas,” he said. “There were areas where I had church members but I couldn’t get into them because I didn’t have the credentials.

Kilgore said he decided then that he would never be caught unprepared by a disaster situation again and he wants to encourage others to be prepared as well.

“Disaster relief is something all of us can do,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting the training and then working out your schedule to go.”

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