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February 20, 2012

Press Photo

BCF Professor David Coggins (far right) leads a group of students to Japan to assist with disaster relief. Homes were rebuilt and lives were forever changed.

On March 11, 2011, a powerful 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami that devastated over one fourth of the coastal regions of northeast Japan. Amidst the fear, pain, and suffering, a group of students from The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) in Graceville made a difference in the lives of many Japanese citizens as they joined efforts with several different relief organizations.

Early in the fall 2011 semester, the Florida Baptist Convention Disaster Relief division requested that a team of students from The Baptist College of Florida respond to the need for volunteers to help in the recovery taking place in Japan. This request was also in conjunction with Baptist Global Response (BGR), the international disaster relief effort of Southern Baptists. BGR had established a partnership with Samaritan's Purse (SP) in providing volunteer teams to assist in the rebuild efforts. Within a very short period of time, the requested number of students to fill the team was in place, displaying once again that BCF students are always ready to respond to meet the needs of those who are hurting. This team consisted of Alan Cox, Josh Holmes, John Stickles, Brittany Thompson and Jon Michael Thompson, with faculty leader David Coggins. Also joining the team traveling to Japan was state Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) worker David Wood.

Once the team arrived in Japan, they were joined by International Mission Board (IMB) missionary to Japan Jeff Loomis. The team then made the seven hour journey from Tokyo to Kesennuma, Japan and to Samaritan's Purse Hope Center, their home for the next 13 days.

During the two week stay, the group worked side by side with SP staff and volunteers from all over the world. There were volunteers from Japan, Germany, China, Korea and a film crew from Holland chronicling the rebuilding efforts taking place in the region. For some of the experienced disaster relief workers on the BCF team, this brought a new dynamic and perspective. Not only did the team have to adjust to working in the Japanese culture, but they also had to adapt to working with a diverse culture of Christians from other faith traditions, giving the team an opportunity to represent Southern Baptists, Florida Baptists, and BCF. Coggins expressed deep appreciation for the way that the students responded and worked with the groups. Living at the base camp took a truly cooperative work effort each day from sharing shower units, to setting tables for meals, clearing tables and washing and stowing dishes after meals. According to Coggins, the students represented BCF, Florida Baptists and Southern Baptists admirably.

To prepare for the trip, the team met and discussed specifics of the work and living arrangements, but nothing could have prepared them for what they would experience once they were actually on site. The best preparation was the spiritual preparation to just be ready for whatever they experienced and to seek God's provision to help them adjust quickly to so they would not waste valuable time.

Working with Samaritan's Purse in Kesennuma proved to be challenging, but very rewarding for both the volunteers and those in need. The area was very hard hit with destruction, not only directly on the coast by the devastating wall of water, but also with the rising waters in the rivers and channels that run through the city. This brought extensive flooding and damage to homes that were literally moved off of the foundations.

Most of the people that the team interacted with practice a religion that offers little hope. Volunteers not only gave them hope in restoring their home, but through their witness, they were able to introduce many to the hope that is found in Christ.

One of the students, Jon Michael Thompson, observed, "What really hit me was that we stepped into a place of spiritual and emotional desolation. Being a believer and living in communion with the One who is life, I felt even more of a burden for believers to reach out to the Japanese because they have no hope, and we have that which they need. We need to bring them hope."

There were several opportunities for the team to interact and give that hope. Throughout the day, many of the homeowners would join workers during the breaks giving volunteers a chance to talk with them. The workers prayed with homeowners each day, bearing witness to Christ and a dependence on Him for guidance for the days' work. One specific time when the gospel was shared was during home dedications. Once the work was completed on a home, the work team, the homeowner, leaders from Samaritan's Purse and a local pastor would conduct a dedication service. There was singing, scriptures read, testimonies and a short message from a local Japanese pastor blessing the home, and including the gospel presentation. The homeowner would also be presented a Bible signed by the workers that had worked on their home and a final prayer of blessing. During the time that the BCF team was in Japan, they had the opportunity to participate in two home dedications. At one service, an elderly lady gave her life to Christ as a result of the witness, the work, and the Christian love shown to her during this time of great need in her life.

"I have been able to do a lot in disaster relief situations," stated Coggins, "but this is one of the few times I have been on the back end of the experience. Usually we go in quickly, clean up or clean out, get people immediate help and then move on. To get the opportunity to see the rebuilding process and to be a part of that was very rewarding. To go into a home that was flooded, debris removed, and now getting to put it back in living condition for a family was very rewarding."

An epic disaster gave God's people an opportunity to show the love of Christ in tangible ways. The student team from The Baptist College of Florida took two weeks out of their lives, traveled around the globe to hammer, hang sheetrock and rebuild homes. More importantly, they traveled around the globe to put their arms around hurting people who wondered if anybody cared about their pain. In caring, they brought glory to God.

For more information about The Baptist College of Florida and ministry opportunities, call 800-328-2660.