Faith-based organizations get advice at disaster workshop in Cape

Friday, April 27, 2012
More than 60 people attended the Missouri Governor's Faith-Based Organization Disaster Initiative Workshop held at Saint Francis Medical Center Thursday, April 26, 2012. The workshop was the second of six that officials planned to hold across the state through May 4. (JOE GAMM)

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the correct title of one of the sources.

The Rev. Aaron Brown's voice broke as he told a group of Southeast Missouri residents about having to tell someone from his congregation one of their family members had died.

But after a tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., on May 22, there was too much work to do to grieve. Brown, the reverend at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Joplin, said one of the most difficult tasks he had to do after the tornado was simply to organize a team to contact every member of the church.

After working for days to contact and console his congregation, a man whom he had met only in brief encounters reached out and hugged him.

Brown said it felt like Jesus was hugging him.

Brown shared his experiences with about 60 Southeast Missouri residents who gathered at Saint Francis Medical Center's Fitness Plus for the Missouri Governor's Faith-Based Organization Disaster Workshop held Thursday. The event was one of six workshops scheduled to be held throughout the state through May 4.

The program is a state initiative designed to strengthen local, state and federal agencies' responses to disasters or emergencies.

"We try to relate the storm in Joplin with disaster preparedness," said Mike O'Connell, the state Department of Public Safety director of communications. "The idea is to give people practical suggestions. For example, if your church has a ministry to the poor, then your ministry already has a connection in that community."

O'Connell said the first contributors in disaster recovery efforts are faith-based organizations that provide food and shelter for people affected.

Churches also provide crews to help remove debris and baby sitters to watch children while families clean up their homes or search for missing family members, O'Connell said.

"During a disaster, you're going to get an onslaught of volunteers, but you won't know what to do with them all," O'Connell said.

Organizations like AmeriCorps specialize in finding tasks for volunteers, he said.

Brown warned faith-community leaders Thursday not to spend too much time gathering clothing and supplies for people affected by disasters. He said overenthusiastic volunteers arrived in Joplin with mountains of products, but there were no structures left in which to store them.

"What we really need in an emergency are volunteers and money," Brown said.

JoAnne Hahs of Oak Ridge volunteers for the Southeast Baptist Disaster Relief Unit. Hahs said she and her husband have traveled across the country to help people affected by storms. They responded to Lynn Creek and Williamsburg, Va., in 2003, Stewart, Fla., in 2004, and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We sleep on air mattresses in sleeping bags," she said. "We sleep on floors in churches."

The Rev. David Dissen, a chaplain for the Cape Girardeau Fire Department and member of Zion Lutheran Church in Gordonville, said the important thing to take away from the conference was that all churches should have emergency plans.

"I am learning much-needed guidelines for preparing a church in advance," he said. "I can't emphasize enough that you must prepare in advance for a disaster or a violent intruder."


Pertinent address:

211 Saint Francis Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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