Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Jay Paul Woods is no different. He was recently deployed to Jonesboro less than 24 hours after an EF3 tornado touched down.
In Jonesboro, Woods served as the Incident Commander, something he’s done many times before. But this deployment was different, and not just because it was in his own backyard. For the first time since he could remember, Woods was working without his best friend and right hand man, Eddie Nash, by his side.
Clutching his friend’s DR badge in his hands, Woods recalled the first time he and Nash worked together as DR volunteers. In August 2016, historic floods devastated parts of south Louisiana after 20 inches of rain fell in a three-day span. He had convinced Eddie to get certified and then to go to Baton Rouge as a chaplain. The experience proved to be so overwhelming that Nash cried most of the way home and swore he’d never go on another deployment. Eventually, after much prayer and encouragement from Woods, Eddie committed himself to Disaster Relief ministry. His passion for serving grew to the point that he once left for deployment in Nebraska just two weeks after having stents put in in his heart.
Remembering his friend, Woods said, “Everybody loved Eddie. He had a way of making everyone laugh. He took their minds off of difficult situations and made everyone’s job easier.” Even still, Woods shared how Eddie often wondered about his specific role in Disaster Relief. I told him, “You’re comic relief. That’s your job. That’s what you’re here for.”
The two eventually served on 15 deployments together around the country, but this time Eddie wasn’t there. One morning, just one week earlier, the two friends were planning to get together. When Nash didn’t show up, Jay Paul became concerned and went looking for his friend. He hoped for the best, but his worst fears were realized as he discovered that Eddie had passed away and he knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
Just two days after this tragic event, Woods was given the opportunity to lead a team heading to Northwest Arkansas, but he didn’t feel like he was ready yet. And then the tornado hit Jonesboro. Woods said, “God said, you’re ready. You will go.” And so, with a heavy heart, Woods agreed to go and run the command center.
It didn’t take long to notice his friend’s absence. “I missed picking him up from his house and hearing his jokes. I missed the way he made bad situations bearable.” Jay Paul said the truth hit him hard, “You can’t replace Eddie. We won’t find anyone to take his place. The way I see it, his job will always be vacant, but we’ll always remember the good times.”
As he reflects back on all that’s happened, Woods is reminded that God is still on the throne and He is still in control. He says that God is teaching him how to get back up. “When we lost Eddie, I was down. I fell hard. God used the Jonesboro tornado to say ‘Son, get back up,’ and I did.”
But it wasn’t easy. Woods is grateful for the other volunteers who helped to make his job easier. They knew he was struggling so they offered encouraging words, prayed with him, and did their jobs like they always do. Woods says he wouldn’t expect anything less. “DR volunteers in Arkansas and across the nation do their job efficiently. They know what they’re doing. They work hard and they do it right.”
As he gets ready to head back out, Woods smiles as he recalls the words to one of his favorite songs by Christian music artists Casting Crowns. “I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, all about somebody who saved my soul”
That somebody is Jesus. And that’s what Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief is all about.
Disaster Relief is a ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Learn more at https://abscdisasterrelief.org/