All Baptist Resource Network (BRN) Disaster Relief (DR) Volunteers are on ALERT, as of March 17. ALERT means that there is a potential of response. During this ALERT, trained disaster relief volunteers are responsible to pray for those who are being affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and for all those who are trying to help. Volunteers were expected to look at at their lives with a view to becoming as available as possible to put their training into action.
So, what is happening?
The churches of the BRN are creatively ministering in their communities. They are distributing food boxes and hot meals, delivering groceries, volunteering in food banks and homeless ministries, praying with many and delivering the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is so encouraging to see the images and hear the stories of how our churches are being faithful to the Great Commission, courageous in “touching” their neighbors, and wise in reducing their risk of doing it all. Our churches are the front line in the COVID-19 response.
BRN DR is pleased to be in the background, providing masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to our churches who are courageously engaging their communities for the sake of the gospel. We have shipped thousands of N95 masks and vinyl gloves to many churches in South Jersey and Pennsylvania. We are working with a number of our churches who are sewing cloth masks, which will begin to replace the disposable N95s that are now depleted. But we have plenty of gloves to last a while. We will continue to ship supplies, at our expense, as long as we have them. We are also utilizing our connections with private and governmental entities to resource outreaching churches. For example, Sysco Corp. made their food stocks available to us for free and very reduced rates. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services provided an opportunity for us to receive shelf-stable meals for our churches to distribute. We have ordered 42,000 of them!
Eighteen of our DR chaplains have accepted the challenge to pray with every one of our pastors every week. They do this by phone, text, e-mail, and cards. We even custom-made an Easter card to send to all of our pastors and BRN staff. The front of the card was a print of a gorgeous photograph of a lily by Coni Kifer, an artist from First Baptist Church, Clarion. Her and her husband are both active volunteers with BRN Disaster Relief. Our chaplains are also part of the pastor prayer support offered by calling (800) 451-6599, ext.7.
Six volunteers from East Shore Baptist Church helped to assemble two “Western Shelters” at a PEMA facility in Harrisburg. These shelters had never been set up and needed to be tested to make sure they were deployable. Because of the relationship that BRN DR has with the Commonwealth, we were specifically asked to provide the team. The shelters are now able to be used as temporary medical facilities, and these men will likely be deployed to set them up whenever needed. Thank you, gentlemen!
Then there was the invitation from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to provide 26 weeks of feeding for an Alternate Care Facility (ACF) in Glen Mills. We accepted the challenge and immediately began to prepare for it. What an exercise in preparedness! And what sacrifices were made to make it possible!
Jeff Slagle (Mason-Dixon Baptist Church, New Freedom, Pa.) and John Harmon (Living Faith Baptist Church, Fombell, Pa.) made themselves available for full-time service for six months! A small army of DR volunteers rounded up supplies and information. Our own volunteers quickly filled Week 1. The Baptist Conventions of New York and Maryland/Delaware were just as quick to fill Week 2. The Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia were in the wings to take a week per month as well.
Several of our DR volunteers were already committing to multiple weeks. Vendors were engaged. Communication with government authorities was constant. The BRN staff and Executive Board were pouring hours into it. The plan was in place and ready to go into action by April 10, even without a contract. In spite of our diligence, the Governor’s plan to stand up the temporary medical facilities was halted because of some much-needed good news–the pace of the infection rate was not as bad as anticipated. Although the COVID-19 cases were continuing to mount up in the Philly region, the hospitals were able to handle the demand. So the ACFs were no longer needed.
Of course, these efforts would not be possible without the BRN staff, helpdesk support, and our executive director/treasurer, Dr. Barry Whitworth. And well hidden behind the scenes is a superb Incident Management Team who is very happy to remain unnamed. But here they will be named: Ivan & Charlene Cousins, Operations Leads (FBC, Clarion); Gary Mills, Logistics Lead (East Shore Baptist Church); Nina Mullen, Chaplaincy Assistant (Ridgeline Community Church); Bill and Sue Hoops, Chaplaincy Coordinator (Winfield Baptist Church); Jeff Slagle, Deputy Incident Commander (Mason-Dixon Baptist Church); and Kenton Hunt, BRN Disaster Relief Director – Incident Commander (First Southern Baptist Church, Williamsport).
This crisis will continue for a while, but not forever. Please keep seeking ways to safely touch your neighbors. But also, begin imagining how you and your church will be more strategic in meeting real human needs and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom when this crisis is past (Psalm 57:1).
This article is an adaptation of a report from PA/SJ Disaster Relief Director, Kenton Hunt.