Baptist groups await OK to help Ark. twister victims

 But waiting doesn't mean doing nothing, officials say.

By Jeff Brumley

Death tolls and destruction aren’t the only difficult things to deal with for Baptist disaster-relief officials. Having to tell eager volunteers, at least initially, to stay home can be just as tough.

“The toughest part of my job, at least for the first 48 hours, is that everybody wants to go, everybody wants to start — and we can’t,” said Charles Ray, associate coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas.

CharlesRayThat’s just what Ray finds himself doing the day after a wave of overnight tornadoes tore through Midwestern and Southern states. News reports say at least 17 were killed.

In Arkansas, authorities have cordoned off many communities today, leaving Ray and most other faith-based disaster-response groups — except those specially trained for rapid response — to wait it out for another 24 to 48 hours.

But waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing, he added. CBF Arkansas officials are working with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, or VOAD, and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management to coordinate visits to the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia, which are among the hardest hit in the Little Rock area.

Ray said he currently does not know of any CBF churches or members who were affected by the storm. He said it would be later in the day before he gets a clearer picture.

On Monday morning, Ray spoke with CBF Disaster Response Coordinator Tommy Deal, who then issued a statement saying the national organization is ready “to rally support and resources” as CBF state groups request it.

Deal added that he has learned that CBF leaders in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas are not reporting potential needs as great as Arkansas.

Deal told ABPnews/Herald he couldn’t speculate if the death toll and level of damage being reported from Arkansas would warrant summer-long mission projects for CBF churches — as occurred in Oklahoma after the deadly tornadoes there in May 2013.

“It’s too early to tell,” Deal said. “We just need to let them get out and determine what the needs are and how and if we can assist.”

In the meantime he suggested cash donations be made online or by sending checks to CBF, Disaster Response Ministries, P.O. Box 101699, Atlanta, GA  30392.  Checks should be made payable to CBF and be designated “Disaster Response-17000.”

tommydealRay said CBF Arkansas is ready to move as soon as it’s given the all-clear by authorities.

“We have a Bobcat lined up and a bulldozer is available,” he said. “We may have to wait another two days for a decision, but we will go in there.”

One spark of good news came later in the morning when Ray said he reached Pastor James Hayes at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church Morgan, Ark.

The century-old church was rebuilt and reopened with CBF Arkansas assistance in 2012 after being heavily damaged in a 2011 twister. Ray was concerned Monday morning that Mount Pilgrim may have been damaged again.

Instead, the church “was spared this time as the [twister] passed over it,” Ray said.