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April 10, 2012

Press Photo

BCF Professor David Coggins (center) provides guidance at the registration table as students enter the gym and get ready for the training event.

Throughout the first weekend of March, Psalms 145:4, "One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts," was modeled and applied during the disaster relief training held at The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) in Graceville. In a joint effort between BCF and the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) Disaster Relief (DR) team, 58 college students were trained in disaster relief. The training was conducted by FBC Disaster Relief state leaders and adult volunteers equipped to train others in disaster relief work.

After months of conversations that began with a college worker roundtable at The North American Mission Board (NAMB), a program was discussed to train college students in disaster relief. The meeting included NAMB Disaster Relief staff, state DR leaders, and college representatives which included Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) leaders, mission mobilizers, the Director of FBC Disaster Relief Ministries Fritz Wilson, and BCF Professor David Coggins.

During the months following the meeting, Wilson and Coggins began to develop a program to meet the objectives that came out of the roundtable discussions by offering a training event that could be used as a model for training college students. The primary purpose was to engage, prepare, and utilize college students in DR as the next generation of leaders in churches and ministry.

With preparation complete, the disaster relief units began rolling onto the BCF campus and setting up operations for the college training event. There was a shower unit, a feeding unit, several clean up and recovery units, and heavy equipment, all for the purpose of giving the students a hands-on training experience. The hands-on experience included spending the weekend sleeping on the floor in the gym, showering in the DR shower unit, and eating and serving in the DR feeding unit. The simulated environment provided students with as much of a disaster "call out" event as possible.

The weekend turned out to be very stressful for DR personnel as tornadoes and storms were pounding most of the country. While Florida was not directly hit with tornadoes, the entire weekend was spent with severe weather, torrential rains, and several tornado watches and warnings. However, this did not deter the students or the volunteer trainers from continuing the weekend training. The students had the chance to observe the DR staff as they monitored weather and remained in contact with other states in anticipation of possible "call out" situations.

As the students registered and received their sleeping assignments, they were given the opportunity to participate in a disaster walk through. Since an area of the BCF gym was scheduled to be remodeled, a team of students working with Coggins built a disaster walk through including a flooded home with staged molded walls, unpleasant odors, torn out sheet rock, and debris. The students also constructed rooms that had been hit with tornado or hurricane winds with limbs and debris littered rooms, along with destroyed furnishings and personal belongings. The team arranged for a vehicle with a fallen tree across the top to be placed outside for students to see. The visual devastation was an integral part of the experience for students trying to understand what they would feel and think when entering a disaster area. During the debrief of the visuals, many students shared experiences of disasters in their own lives and discussed why training in DR is important for their preparation for ministry.

BCF students worked late nights and started early in the mornings helping prepare meals in the feeding unit and receiving training from the trainers. Participants who completed the training earned credentials in feeding unit, clean up and recovery, and were introduced to Operational Stress First Aid (OSFA) as part of the FBC Disaster Relief's Barnabas Ministry.

"This training went far above expectations," stated BCF student Krystal Brothers. "I learned what DR ministry was about, but more importantly, I learned how I can get involved. I realized something I had heard, but now became real, 'it's not about me', but it is about those we can help." According to BCF Professor James Newell, "the overnight aspect of the event replicated a real experience of leaving the comforts of home to help those in need. It was a great event, well organized and very helpful." Those sentiments were voiced over and over as students expressed how the experience exceeded their expectations and prepared them for when they are called upon to serve. While no one looks forward to a disaster occurring, BCF students now feel that they are prepared to offer assistance when needed.

FBC Disaster Relief Ministry Team Leader Fritz Wilson stated, "The collegiate event was special because it allowed us to blend the experience of our current disaster volunteers, who are mostly retirees, with the youth and enthusiasm of the college students. Both groups learned from each other. Many of our experienced volunteers were inspired by the students' willingness to learn as well as their zeal to go out and help people in the name of Jesus." FBC Disaster Relief Ministry Associate Terry Ryan stated how impressed he was with the student's attention to details. He noted that students weren't distracted by the rain as they stood under tents learning how to work the feeding unit and they remained attentive during classroom sessions learning unfamiliar concepts in order to be well trained if called upon.

"Our Lord's top priority is disaster relief," added BCF President Thomas Kinchen. "He has done it in our individual lives when we were without hope. As such, we dare not sit in our comfort and let those hurting go without relief available to them in Jesus Christ. The attitude and contribution of those volunteers who came to work with our students was contagious, so BCF looks forward to a long and rewarding involvement with disaster relief and continuing to train and prepare students to be ready when disaster does come."

The goal of the collegiate disaster relief training was more than just to prepare a group of college students for a onetime event. Hope is high that the training will have a long term benefit as students go into places of ministry and champion disaster relief in the future. The collegiate DR weekend was just one of many planned as the next generation of volunteers across the state and prayerfully throughout Southern Baptist life bring "Help, Healing, and Hope" to those who have experienced disaster.

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Students gather around the Director of the Florida Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Ministries Fritz Wilson as he welcomes them to the training and outlines the events for the weekend.