Pandemic brings new ministry opportunities for Disaster Relief volunteers

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers are known for serving others in the midst of the devastation of a natural disaster. Hurricanes, tornadoes and floods provide numerous opportunities to meet needs and share the love of Jesus. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic created a different, yet no less devastating, disaster as many Arkansans found themselves quarantined with nothing to eat and no way to get needed supplies.  

ABSC DR Director Randy Garrett was initially contacted about the possibility of providing help to get much needed food boxes to individuals and families in the central Arkansas area.  ABSC DR would partner with the Arkansas Food Bank to pick up food boxes and deliver them to health centers around the area where they would then be delivered to those in quarantine. Garrett, confident that ABSC DR volunteers would faithfully rise to the challenge, agreed to step in and help meet the need.  

Garrett was not disappointed as DR volunteers once again stepped up to the plate, agreeing to drive at their own expense to deliver food to those in need.  Many of these volunteers drove hundreds of miles as the delivery area was expanded to include the rest of the state. Garrett soon realized that he needed someone to help organize the effort and enlisted a volunteer team to meet the growing need. He turned to Terry Barclay, a Blue and Beige Cap DR volunteer from Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith.  

Barclay, an electrical engineer by trade, and his wife Debbie, a retired English teacher, began serving with ABSC DR over two years ago when flooding hit their hometown and surrounding areas. They started out serving with the feeding crew and Barclay said while he was not a cook, he was able to find other ways to assist the team during the disaster recovery efforts. He helped by taking care of trash, washing dishes and even doing some electrical work. “I was willing to do whatever needed to be done,” Barclay said.  

In the last two years, Barclay and his wife have been trained in feeding, flood recovery, chainsaw, advanced chainsaw and incident command. They have served during disasters in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  He said he loves serving others and really enjoys the response they get from the people they serve. “People always ask why we do this. They want to know how much we are getting paid.” 

Barclay says people are always surprised to hear that they are not getting paid but are serving for free. Many don’t understand why they would serve without expecting anything in return. He simply points to what happened during the recent tornadoes in Louisiana as the motivation for serving. “Over 300 people gave their heart to the Lord through the ministry provided by ABSC DR volunteers.”  

It was during Hurricane Laura that Barclay was called upon to lead the food delivery here in Arkansas. The delivery area had been expanded to include Fort Smith and other parts of the state. Garrett had his hands full leading the relief efforts in Louisiana and needed someone to step in and help take care of the needs at home. Barclay quickly agreed to serve and went to work immediately enlisting volunteers. He worked with ABSC DR ministry assistant Keturah Quimby to send out letters and emails requesting help. 

He established a network of volunteers and created spreadsheets to help keep the entire process organized. He eventually enlisted over 50 volunteers that included area missionaries as well as missions pastors. Several of those who offered to help were not certified DR volunteers. They were just Arkansas Baptists who felt compelled to serve people in need. Many wondered if they would be able to serve even though they were not formally trained. Barclay would ask these volunteers, “Are you willing to pick up and drive?” If they answered yes, they were allowed to serve.   

The volunteers were spread across the state and picked up food boxes in Texarkana, Fort Smith, Little Rock, Mountain Home, West Memphis, El Dorado and Bethel Heights in Northwest Arkansas. When food banks did not have enough supplies, local church pantries filled in the gap to provide the needed food.  

In the four months that Barclay served as coordinator, the group delivered 19,500 boxes and drove over 17,000 miles. Barclay praised the efforts of these faithful servants. “Not only did they serve for free, but they also actually thanked me for being able to serve,” Barclay said. 

He tells the story of one missions pastor in Jonesboro who left directly from officiating at a funeral to deliver food in Piggott. Another couple personally drove over 1,200 miles and braved hazardous driving conditions in a dangerous storm to deliver their food boxes. Another volunteer had recently gone through a heart procedure and still completed his delivery.  Others cancelled meetings and gave up personal plans to serve. Barclay points out that every volunteer served at their own expense and all of them went above and beyond to serve the people of Arkansas.  

Due to COVID-19 regulations, the volunteers were not allowed to meet and/or visit with those they helped. Barclay says there was only one trip where he was asked to go with a health center employee to help deliver the food. In this case, he was able to talk to the family and pray with them from a distance; but this was the only chance he had to interact with the people they were called to serve. 

Barclay says some people may ask, “What’s the point in doing ministry if you can’t share the Gospel?” Even though he’s disappointed that there have not been opportunities to share the Gospel with those in quarantine, he knows that what they did still matters. His assurance comes from God’s own words found in Matthew 25:40. “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.

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