Yesterday, my compadre John Pierce devoted his blog to exploring the legitimate question of whether disaster relief is still news. I don’t know if we’ve had a lot more disasters lately, or if there’s more relief work going on — but there has certainly been no lack of stories related to disaster relief.

Disasters are always news, though never good news.

Disaster relief and recovery efforts — especially by big-hearted volunteers — are always good news to storm victims, even if they may be old news to observers or exploited by denominational news agencies to earn public relations points.

Pierce noted one upside: efforts like disaster relief tend to inspire unity among Christians (Baptists in particular), which is always welcome news among folks who grow tired of infighting and division.

A woman with four children who can’t even visit her house filled with mud and mildew doesn’t care whether the people who provide food and showers believe in inerrancy — she knows that they believe in sharing the love of Christ, and that is what matters.

As for the volunteers themselves, when they are focused on helping others survive a disaster, quibbles over biblical interpretation are way down on the priority list.

Having covered relief and recovery efforts in the wake of hurricanes like Mitch (in Honduras), Floyd (eastern North Carolina), and Katrina (Gulfport), among others, I know that the story always seems bigger to those who are living in the aftermath of a storm than it does to those who are observing from their comfort of their unblemished homes.

Any time big-hearted people give up their time, sleep, and sweat to help others, I think its news worth noting. I’m most familiar with the relief and recovery efforts of North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM), which has been a leader in mobilizing men and women to fulfill their Christian calling, and in planning ahead to provide the equipment and resources they need for the task.

Before Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast, N.C. volunteers and equipment were already staged at the Woman’s Missionary Union assembly at Shocco Springs, Alabama, waiting for an assignment. The group’s “big unit,” called Manna One, ended up in hard-hit Houma, Louisiana, where the photos I’ve posted here were taken.

They’ve since moved on to Baytown, Texas, where all three of NCBM’s feeding units are deployed in one location and more than 100 yellow-shirted volunteers are at work, providing as many as 80,000 meals a day for victims of Hurricane Ike. They also have equipment and volunteers on site to provide showers, laundry facilities, and fresh water. Trained chaplains are on hand to lend a compassionate ear and to offer both spiritual and emotional encouragement.

That couldn’t happen without careful planning, standing orders for food and supplies, good relations with vendors, regular training for volunteers, experienced leadership, excellent communication, and other preparations I haven’t even thought about.

If U. S. government agencies were half as efficient and banking company executives were half as selfless, there would be a lot less misery in our nation and world.

I heard a news report yesterday, noting that thousands of linemen from various power companies were being sent to Ike-ravaged areas in a massive effort to restore power. One company spokesman noted that the workers would get overtime pay for working up to 98 hours per week. As a result, he said, there was no shortage of volunteers.

Thousands of Baptist volunteers have left jobs and families behind to work the same sort of hours for no pay at all.

They do it for love, and they do it year after year, disaster after disaster, and it never gets old.

The pictures and stories might start to run together, but their efforts reflect a perennial proclamation of the gospel — a word that always means “good news.”

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