Storm Chasers

I have served almost twelve years as Disaster Relief Director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and have been involved in countless disaster responses across our globe – from hurricanes on the Gulf Coast to tornadoes in the Midwest to famines in Africa. As I reflect on these events, there is no question in my mind that God is good and His heart breaks as He watches the suffering caused by these catastrophic events. For those reeling in the aftermath of these life-changing events, the loss can be overwhelming.

So what should our response be as the church to those suffering in the aftermath of these crushing incidents?

The Bible again and again calls us to reach to those wounded by life with compassion.

Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:12, ” Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them—this is the Law and the Prophets.”

The apostle Paul commands us in Galatians 6:2, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. “

This is at the heart of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief. Disaster Relief volunteers respond time and time again to bring practical help, a healing touch, and the hope of Christ to those struggling in the aftermath of disasters. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams are often the first on the ground and the last to leave these broken places. God’s light shines through the darkness as these responders offer the compassion and hope of Christ.

God often uses nature to both bless and to challenge us, to bring us food and to teach us the lessons of the struggle. The Bible challenges the church to fight against the devastation, disease, and brokenness of our world. He calls His followers to enter the battle and to be His hands and feet of compassion in a broken world. We are to leave the sidelines and enter the fray. As John reminds us,” This is how we have come to know love: Christ laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Historically, the church has always responded to tragedies with sacrifice and courage. During the third century it was the church that remained to minister to its neighbors when most others fled the plague. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief provided millions of meals and rebuilt scores of homes. And last year, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief provided over 116,000 meals to survivors of Hurricane Florence and assisted hundreds of families with chainsaw cleanup and recovery after Hurricane Michael.

As the followers of Christ, we choose to be “storm-chasers”. But we do not chase the storm to gather data, we chase the storm to bring help, healing, and hope.

If you would like to learn how you could become a Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, go to www.kybaptist.org/dr or call us at (502) 489-3527.

Meridzo Ministries Celebrates 20-Year Anniversary

Last week I was privileged to attend the 20-Year Anniversary Banquet of Meridzo Ministries in Harlan County, KY.  I too am celebrating 20-years with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Lonnie & Belinda Riley were two of the first people I met when I came on board.  It has been amazing to see Meridzo Ministries develop over the years.  Every time I make a visit, new and exciting things have happened at the ministry.

Dr. Larry Martin, retired Missions Team Leader with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, has also connected with Meridzo from the beginning, and shares about the evening as a guest writer to this blog:

Meridzo Center Ministries, Lynch, KY celebrated 20 years of ministry in the heart of Appalachia on September 6-7. More than 200 people from at least 10 states gathered for a banquet on Friday evening at the Benham Schoolhouse Inn and a cookout on Saturday at Shekinah Village and The Stables at Creekside Glen. At the banquet, 22 current staff members of Meridzo were recognized. Meridzo is a faith-based ministry; no staff member receives a salary. 

At the banquet four speakers shared about the impact of Meridzo:  Dr. Larry Martin, retired KY Baptist Convention missions team leader; Dr. Bruce Ayers, president emeritus of Southeast KY Community College; Claude King, co-author with Henry Blackaby of the Experiencing God study; and George Otis, Jr., producer of Transformation Videos from communities around the world which are experiencing unusual movements of God. Martin has often described the movement of God in Lynch as “the greatest movement of God in one location I have experienced in more than 50 years of ministry.” Otis referred to the movement in Lynch as the greatest example of transformation he has encountered in North America. 

Lynch Mayor John S. Adams emphasized the positive impact of Meridzo Center during the past 20 years. In honor of that impact on Lynch and the surrounding area, he announced that the street on which the Meridzo Center office is located will be renamed “Solomon’s Way.” 

Lonnie and Belinda Riley, the founders of Meridzo Center Ministries, served for more than 20 years through the Ohio Southern Baptist Convention and in local churches in Ohio and Mississippi, before returning in March 1999 to their home area of Southeastern KY. Belinda was reared in Lynch; Lonnie was reared in Hazard and attended college in Lynch. There he met Belinda, became a believer, and felt a call to ministry. Unexpectedly, in late 1998 both sensed God leading them to “return home and help hurting people,” as they put it. Over the past 20 years God has displayed His power in amazing ways.

On Friday evening Lonnie announced a transition in leadership. Lonnie will remain the President and Chairman of the Board for Meridzo Center as well as continuing to do speaking engagements and representing the ministry. Drew Baldwin will succeed Lonnie as the CEO. Drew and his wife Leah have been Meridzo staff members for the past 10 years, and Drew has served as COO since 2014.

More information concerning Meridzo is available in the book “Miracle in the Mountains” and the DVD documentary “It’s Only Cookie Dough.” Website for Meridzo is:     meridzo.org

Seven Ways to Embrace the Displaced

Imagine being a refugee landing in the United States for the first time. You’ve been waiting for years for the opportunity to start your life again. You haven’t had a home to call your own, your children have only sporadically attended school, and your spouse suffers from insomnia and nightmares about the violence that drove you from your country. You don’t speak English, and you have no idea how to get started in a new country.

Refugees have an array of hopes and fears as they acclimate to a new culture and a new way of life. As followers of Jesus, we need to stand ready to embrace those who arrive in our cities and neighborhoods. We have a ready opportunity to impact their hearts and lives for the gospel as they resettle in our midst. Here are seven powerful and practical ways to welcome them into your community.

1. Greet Newly Arrived Refugees

Greet and transport a newly arrived refugee family from the airport to their new home. Meet them with a welcome basket filled with information about their new community, including emergency contact information, maps, invitations to your church worship services, tutoring sessions, and ESL classes, as well as a note telling them how happy you are to have them in your community.

2. Be a Friend

If you’ve ever moved to a new neighborhood, you understand that you don’t truly feel settled until you’ve been welcomed by new friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, most refugees are accustomed to being ignored, and loneliness is one of their greatest challenges.

For help getting to know a family and becoming a part of their lives as they adapt to a new country and culture, connect with the local resettlement agency that sponsors new refugees in your community, and learn about their volunteer opportunities.

3. Visit Refugees in Their Homes

As with any friendship, you must make time for your new friends. Visit them frequently in their homes and bring along a basket of fruit or a freshly baked cake. Allow time to stay and chat. Ask them questions about their family’s stories and how they came to arrive in your community. Learn about their favorite foods and customs. They’ll likely be happy to share.

In return, you can share more about your family and some of your favorite traditions. If you’re invited to a meal, try everything. They’ll be happy to share their very best with you, even when they have a limited amount to give.

4. Help Refugees Adapt to Their New Communities

Take your refugee friends shopping and explain the different types of stores in your community. Help set up phone service and doctor’s appointments. You can also assist them in registering their children for school and showing them how to use public transportation.

5. Share Your Home and Life

Open your home and welcome a refugee family into your everyday life. Share important milestones by inviting them to birthday parties. Invite them to participate in routine family activities throughout the year. Teach them how to build a snowman and serve hot chocolate or make homemade cookies. Take them for their very first roller coaster ride at a local amusement park. Invite them to your children’s baseball or soccer games or to be your guests at a professional sporting event. Host them for their very first American picnic or cookout.

6. Share Special Holiday Traditions

Invite your refugee friends to take part in your special holiday traditions at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and any other festivities that may be new to them. Share the American tradition of thankfulness with a traditional turkey dinner. Plan your favorite Christmas recipes, sing carols, and give each family member a special gift. In the spring, invite them to the Easter service with your church. Special occasions like these can make your new friends feel honored and provide wonderful inroads to explain your hope in Jesus and the difference he makes in your daily life.

7. Strategic Church and Associational Involvement

Churches and associational networks also have strategic opportunities to be a blessing to refugees in their area. Not only can they provide cross-cultural evangelism training to their members who will be building relational bridges, but they can also provide venues for larger community outreach. Consider the following ministry possibilities:

  • ESL (English as a Second Language) classes for adults and tutoring sessions for children
  • Health screenings and basic health care
  • Classes on citizenship, budget planning, banking, and driver’s education
  • A furniture bank where families can obtain essential household goods
  • Job boards to post hiring opportunities
  • Baby showers for new mothers

Ask the Lord to give you his heart for the refugees in your community. Perhaps Jesus has placed specific families in your area so that you could be the one to demonstrate the gospel to them. Showing and sharing his love and compassion to refugees in your community can be one of the most strategic and rewarding global missions experience you will ever have. Contact John Barnett, KBC Mission Strategist, to get you and your church connected today. [email protected]