Fire helps spark response unit plan

Florida pastor hopes to create disaster relief ministry.

BY P.J. HELLER | LAKE CITY, FL | May 24, 2007

Pastor James Roberts would like to have Southern Baptist churches in Lake City set up a feeding unit like this one to respond to disasters.
Credit: Southern Baptist Convention

A disaster response unit envisioned by Pastor James Roberts would include a chain saw crew from Southern Baptist churches in Lake City.
Credit: Southern Baptist Convention

After seeing the devastating impacts of wildfires, hurricanes and tornadoes on people and communities, James Roberts is determined to help.

"We need to get involved in some type of disaster relief ministry," said Roberts, pastor of the Pine Grove Baptist Church in Lake City, Fla. "We want to put together a team that can go to actual disaster sites and perform whatever ministry or services that we can perform."

To achieve that goal, Roberts is attempting to get some or all of the more than 30 Southern Baptist churches in the Lake City area to join forces to respond to disasters.

"We're looking at doing something on a local scale," he said.

A wildfire still burning in northern Florida was the latest in a series of events that helped spark the idea to create a local faith-based response group, Roberts said.

The church has made its facilities available to firefighters who have been battling the Bugaboo fire in northern Florida. It also has served as a relief center for people who fled from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and from Hurricane Katrina one year later, he said. The Groundhog Day tornadoes in central Florida, which killed 21 people and destroyed more than 500 homes, struck about 80 miles from Lake City.

"I think all of those things together have heightened an awareness within our people that we need to do a better job of being prepared and having a team of people we can send to local situations and disasters," Roberts said.

"We've been very active in the past in being a hurricane shelter," he said. "But the combination of everything that's transpired over the last two years or so has brought us to the place where we see the need where we're going to have to take another step and move beyond merely just reacting when a situation arises."

Initially, he said that response could be a chain saw crew to help in cleanup activities after a storm or a mobile feeding station.

"We need to get involved in some type of disaster relief ministry, where we have the facilities and the tools and things we need to be an arm or an assist to The Salvation Army and the Red Cross," Roberts said. "That's one of the things that we're going to be working on in the near future."

So far, he said, local churches he has spoken with "definitely feel it's a good idea. They are definitely interested in beginning this type of ministry.

"We have generated some interest," he added. "I think it's just a matter of getting the resources together to make it work."

His goal is to have those resources in place so that the organization can be up and running by this summer or fall. He said he was working through a local association of churches and the local Baptist director of missions.

"We'll be working through that office to pool our resources and put together a team," Roberts said.

Roberts said that while his initial efforts were aimed at Southern Baptist churches in his area, he wouldn't rule out opening up the relief unit to other denominations.

"I think initially it's going to be our Southern Baptist churches coming together and then we'll just have to see what the future holds," he said.

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