Connecticut pastor Bryan Sims understands the potential when Southern Baptists respond together. He has seen it firsthand since the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, through prayer, counseling services, and material help.
“It has been invaluable to receive support from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the BCNE [Baptist Convention of New England],” said Sims, pastor of Southbury Baptist Church in Southbury, Connecticut. “Though the Newtown tragedy is somewhat different than a natural disaster, the team adds a wealth of experience in ministering to a hurting community, particularly first responders. Also, our team meetings have generated helpful ideas of potential service to the area.”
NEWTOWN RESPONSE TEAM
Sims and other Southern Baptists in the region have come together to form a Newtown SBC response team to help the community recover. Local churches had already been striving to reach out to some of the area’s first-responders, and Southern Baptists hope to have more opportunities in the future to minister to first-responders who were impacted by last December’s tragic events.
“The first responders on the scene that day—the local police, state troopers, EMTs, and volunteer fire fighters, as well as the medical examiners, CSI detectives, and funeral home personnel—all were forced into a horror that no one should ever have to experience,” said John Revell, a member of the Newtown response team and the pastor of Stamford Baptist Church. “Many are struggling, understandably, to process that.”
Revell, former editor of SBC LIFE, says Southern Baptists are assisting other evangelical churches who are closer to the Newtown community and whose ministry has more direct impact on the community. Stamford is located about forty miles from Newtown.
COOPERATION A KEY
Those involved in the recovery efforts believe the response has demonstrated how Southern Baptists work together from local, state, and national levels. To support what the local Southern Baptist churches in Connecticut have been doing to serve the Newtown community, the BCNE and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) have both provided behind-the-scenes help.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Georgia, NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention’s forty-two cooperating state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Cooperative Program gifts provide much of the funding for NAMB’s disaster-relief coordination responsibilities—including the efforts to help the first-responders in Newtown. For responses that require ongoing resources, NAMB—like its state convention ministry partners—is dependent upon direct donations to its disaster relief fund.
The Newtown response team will continue to provide counseling for first-responders who were involved in the aftermath of the shooting. The team is also planning a concert for children in the community. The date, venue, and other details of that event are still to be determined.
Revell, who also serves as the chaplain for the Stamford Police Department, observed that the greatest need from Southern Baptists right now is ongoing prayer for healing as the trauma from this tragedy is starting to take an even higher toll.
He stressed that prayer truly is the best way to help these valiant first-responders, as well as all the affected families and townspeople right now. Many of the well-intentioned efforts from outside the community have increased the burden and fatigue in the town. Even other evangelical pastors have felt this extra weight.
“Everyone wants to ‘do’ something to help; but this isn’t like a natural catastrophe where teams can come in and rebuild,” Revell said. “The [people’s] hearts have been crushed and money or gifts won’t help; only the Lord can rebuild and restore them.”
Enio Aguero, NAMB’s national disaster relief chaplain coordinator, joined local chaplains in ministering to first-responders on the day of the shooting. As he did so, Aguero built on his experience in ministering to families of military service personnel killed in action.
In the two months since the shooting, Aguero has been providing on-going counseling when needed and support for the local churches on the ground.
Both NAMB and the BCNE have made conscious efforts to keep local churches at the center of the ministry efforts in Newtown.
“For example, all the contacts go to the churches,” Aguero said. “I don’t make any of the calls. All the contacts are being made by the pastors and the people they designate from the church.”
Sims says this will enable the ministry of Southern Baptists to have a longer-lasting benefit to the community.
“The community needs an ongoing local presence that they can know and trust,” Sims said. “People will be struggling with this tragedy for a long time. We want them to know that we are here to help as well as point them to God, the ultimate source of help.”
Photos courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Tobin Perry, a member at First Baptist Church of Woodstock in Woodstock, Georgia, writes for the North American Mission Board