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

They Went because They Were Sent

In response to Scripture (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8), churches should be intentionally sending their members. Sending them on mission trips, church planting efforts, ministry projects and disaster relief responses. The church can reach our world with the gospel by putting the focus on how many we send rather than how many attend. 

What does it mean to send? Sending isthe act of enlisting, equipping and mobilizing believers to engage the world with the gospel through local community ministry, short-term mission experiences, church planting efforts, disaster relief work, vocational ministry, and long-term missionary service.

A sending church equips its members go, challenges them to live on mission every day, and provides many opportunities for them to demonstrate the gospel using their gifts, talents, and life experiences. 

First Baptist Church, Inez, Kentucky is one example of a sending church.  FBC Inez has experienced tremendous missions participation growth during the last two years  because pastor Casey Carver has made sending a priority. 

Pastor Casey preached a month-long series of sermons on the importance of missions, challenging the church to not only pray and give, but to send and go.  He used “One Call” to send a missions themed daily devotional by phone to the entire church during that month-long emphasis.

The church had not taken a mission trip in many years, so pastor Casey planned a 3-day mission trip to an eastern Kentucky ministry that was only 3 hours from their church.  They sent 25% of the church’s Sunday morning attendance on that initial mission trip.

Pastor Casey also encouraged the church to engage in ministry to the local community and many have done so.  Members are doing mission work through local ministries like Appalachian Reach Out, Haven of Rest, Heavenly Treasures Thrift Store, and God’s Food Pantry. Additionally, a group of ladies meets regularly to knit items that are given to residents of the local nursing home. 

The church recognized the need of children in the foster care system who arrive at local homes with nothing to call their own.  Therefore, the church began a ministry in which they provide host families with backpacks filled with items needed by foster children.

The sending of members on mission continues, as does the vision for how that will happen.  Pastor Casey has taken steps toward a new ministry called, God’s Connection, that will serve as a residential drug recovery ministry.  That vision includes a coffee shop and thrift store that will provide revenue for the ministry and a place of employment for those in the program. They have received permission to use an old motel for the ministry are seeking donations to help with renovation as plans for God’s Connection and the micro-ministries are developed. 

Sending people on mission out from the church won’t happen by accident.  There must be intentionality by church leadership, specifically, the pastor.  Pastors, will you challenge your members to go?  Churches, will you send your members out on mission as commanded by Christ?  We serve a sending God who expects nothing less from us, than to go, because we’ve been sent. 

Cooperative Missions Matters in Cincinnati

The muddy and winding Ohio River flows through or borders six states, two of which are KY and OH.  Along the Ohio River’s path sits America’s original Boomtown—Cincinnati, also called the Queen City.  Cincinnati is most notably known as the home of Reds baseball where the Great American Ballpark rests on the bank of the river. 

Metro Cincinnati boasts of 2.1 million people, which is nearly half of the population of the whole state of KY.  Sadly, only 13.7 percent of Cincinnati’s metro residents are affiliated with any evangelical church.  Not surprisingly, in the five counties around the city, there is only 1 SBC church for every 10,298 people.

How does that compare with the whole state of KY?  There is 1 SBC church for every 1,724 people in the state.  This is why the KBC is partnering with NAMB and Send Cincinnati to connect our churches with church planters that are investing their lives in the Queen City for maximum gospel impact.

Just this week, KBC partnered with Send Cincinnati to lead a vision tour in order that KBC church leaders might meet church planters, see the city, and hear the vision for multiplying disciples there. 

As one planter noted, “KBC churches have made it possible for us to do more through their partnerships with us than we could on our own.”

Cooperative mission is what we are about as Southern Baptists.  We really believe we can do more together than we can by ourselves.  The 31 active church planters in Cincinnati believe that as well.  In step with a baseball town, our planters need gospel partners in order to move the runner around the bases.  We need KBC churches stepping up to the plate to advance these planters and their work for the gospel.  

Your church can assist in praying for, providing for, and/or participating in the work of the gospel being accomplished in Cincinnati.  For more information about Cincinnati or our other KBC partnerships, email us at [email protected] or visit www.kybaptist.org/vision.        

What is Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief?

Our world continues to experience devastation and destruction annually.  Man-made events as well as natural disasters continue to challenge our minds with “why.”  Why has this happened?  Why me?  Why my community?  As Believers, we cannot answer the “why,” but we can respond with love and compassion as we help those affected know that they are not forgotten by God.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the three largest disaster response entities in the United States. Trained volunteers stand ready to respond when disasters hit across our globe.  Disaster Relief ministry provides an opportunity for believers to be the hands and feet of Christ to hurting people.

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief began ministry in 1984 and is part of the larger Southern Baptist Send Relief network of 42 state conventions, the North American Mission Board, and Baptist Global Response.  Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief is supported by gifts of Kentucky Baptists through the Cooperative Program and the Eliza Broadus Offering for State Missions.  This ministry offers opportunities for believers to be on mission for Christ during times of crisis.

The Apostle John instructed us:

“Let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

In times of crisis, people need more than empty words.  They need someone to come alongside them with genuine help and real hope.  Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief brings practical help, the healing grace of Christ, and the hope of the Gospel to those devastated by disaster.  More than 4500 Kentucky Baptists are trained as disaster relief volunteers.  Volunteers can staff mobile kitchens designed to provide thousands of hot meals, move in with a chainsaw after a tornado, assist homeowners in cleaning up a flooded home, offer spiritual care as a chaplain, and provide many other disaster services.

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are trained in:

  • Bulk Supply Distribution
  • Chainsaw Ministry
  • Chaplain Care
  • Emergency Childcare
  • Damage Assessment
  • Flood and Wildfire Clean up
  • Mass Feeding
  • Roof Tarping
  • Radio Operations
  • Shower and Laundry Ministry
  • Water Purification and Well Repair

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief has a host of resources that can be mobilized during times of disaster.  Resources that can be deployed are:

  • 4 Mobile Kitchens with the capacity to prepare 68,000 meals a day for disaster survivors
  • 27 Chainsaw/Flood/Fire Recovery Trailers
  • 2 Mobile Communication and Command Units
  • 7 Mobile Shower trailers
  • 1 Mobile Laundry Trailer
  • 2 Mobile Childcare Trailers
  • 3 Mobile Water Purification Units
  • 1 Mobile Roof Tarping Trailer
  • 1 Kuboda Skid-Steer
  • 1 Mobile Lift
  • 2 Fork-lifts

To learn how you or your church can get involved in this Kingdom ministry go to http://www.kybaptist.org/dr, or call (502) 489-3527. Our next Disaster Relief training is at Lifepoint Church in Franklin, Kentucky on September 14. You can register for this training at
http://www.kybaptist.org/drtraining/

50-Year Kentucky Missions Partnership

KBC’s Teresa Parrett, with Spartanburg FBC pastor Dr. Don Wilton and Linda Gilden. Linda was on the first Spartanburg FBC Mission Trip to Kentucky 50-years ago.

This past weekend I was once again reminded of the story of a mission team that came to serve in eastern Kentucky.  They had a great week with the children and youth and, when saying their sad goodbyes, a person on the team said, “don’t worry, we will be back,” to which one of the local children replied, “that is what they all say, but they never do.”  That statement gripped the heart of the team member and caused them to change their plans and come back the next year.  It was during that visit that the mother of the child who said “they all say that” accepted Christ as her personal Savior.  This team developed a partnership in eastern Kentucky and came back many times.

Partnerships are important, because it is through partnerships that relationships are built.  In partnerships missions, teams “adopt” a specific location and go multiple times to the same place, perhaps even several times in one year.  They may bring a VBS team on one trip, a construction team on another.  The local residents get to know the team members, develop a bond and look forward to them coming each year.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting and presenting a certificate of appreciation to Spartanburg, SC First Baptist Church who has been partnering with Bell, Knox and surrounding counties for 50 years.

Bell County Associational Mission Strategist Bruce Walzer says he has personally worked with this team for 30 years as they come and do Vacation Bibles Schools, basketball and cheerleading camps, a feeding program and construction.  Bro. Bruce said they do whatever he needs them to do in his association.

Many lives have been touched in those 50 years.  One local lady shared that her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren came to know Christ through the VBSs of the Spartanburg team and thanked God for their faithfulness to come year after year.  Another man, now in his 50s, shared that he had accepted Christ at one of the VBSs when he was 9-years old.  On a video, child after child confessed, “I gave my heart to Jesus.”

The families of Kentucky are not the only ones impacted by the Spartanburg FBC team.  Leaders of the group say this is where many of their youth shared Jesus for the first time and/or led someone to Christ for the first time.  And, many are in ministry today because they heard the call of God on their lives during Kentucky mission week. 

Linda Gilden, who was on that first mission trip 50 years ago shared about a 5th grade boy that was misbehaving.  She sat down with him and asked what was going on, to which he replied, “nobody cares what I do.”  Linda was able to share with him that she cared, and that God cared. 

This team loves the children and families of eastern Kentucky and come with one purpose, to share the Gospel of Jesus.  Many stories are told of their 50-years of service in Kentucky.  Go to   https://www.facebook.com/firstbaptistspartanburg/videos/1120596114794727/ to view their 2019 video and hear many of these stories. 

Thank you, Spartanburg FBC, for your faithfulness.  We will never know, this side of eternity, the huge impact you have made in eastern Kentucky.    May this partnership continue for many years to come.

For information on how to develop a partnership in Kentucky contact [email protected] or 502-489-3530. 

Preparing for Short-term Missions

Have you ever felt strongly compelled be part of something great only later to realize you were extremely unprepared for it?  The call of missions is indeed a great calling.  God certainly calls some to spend long-term amounts of time on mission away from their home.  He also calls others to join His mission through short-term capacities.  Both calls require preparation. 

Short-term missions—individuals and teams joining a long-term missionary’s vision and strategy for advancing the gospel among particular places and peoples—requires much preparation in order to be most effective.   

While there may be times when a mission effort can be pulled together quickly, most often the preparation requires many months.[1]  No rigid timeline exists for short-term missions, but there are some general steps that allow a team to prepare well in advance in order to maximize the impact of the team with the strategy of the host missionary.  Here is a suggested timeline that can be used as a guide:

  • 10 to 12 months prior–determine assignment
  • 9 months prior—determine team leader(s)
  • 9 months prior—publicize mission effort
  • 6 to 9 months prior—recruit team/receive volunteers, deposit due
  • 6 to 9 months prior—contact travel agent to begin searching ticket prices
  • 6 to 9 months prior—schedule initial info meeting, collect bi-monthly or quarterly payments
  • 6 months prior—apply for passport and check requirement for visas
  • 6 months prior—plan team meetings and meet monthly to discuss general mission prep
  • 3 to 4 months prior—purchase plane tickets
  • 3 to 4 months prior—get immunizations (shots!) if necessary
  • 3 to 4 months prior—team meetings should become more specialized according to what the team will be doing on the field
  • 2 months prior—develop prayer team
  • 4 weeks prior—plan commissioning service for team
  • 1 week prior—hold commission service
  • 1 week or month after—plan celebration time with team and/or church

May the Lord use our preparation in short-term missions to have lasting impact among places and peoples in need of knowing Jesus. 


[1] Disaster Relief is an example of mission efforts that take place quickly, but even then, preparation and training have occurred months and even years prior. 

Amazing Grace

Jesus demonstrated to a broken world that “grace” is more powerful, more inviting, and more life-changing than fear, lectures, or judgement.  God’s truth is embraced when we understand that God is good and desires to give us life.

Our Christian faith teaches that Jesus fully satisfied God’s wrath and judgement on the cross, and assures everlasting life to all who follow Him through the resurrection.  God offers us forgiveness, acceptance, love, and life through the life-changing grace of Christ. 

The Bible shouts to the world the best news ever, “God in His deep love for us has poured out His grace that we might know Him and have life in Him.”  It truly is “Amazing Grace.”

Understanding the depth of God’s grace has three powerful, life-changing results in our life:

  1. It overwhelms you with gratitude.
  2. It captures your heart and awakens deep trust in the God who has poured out His grace on you.  When grace captures your heart, you embrace God’s biblical truth because you realize God desires the best for us and that His way is the best way.
  3. It motivates you to overflow with grace to others.

In 2 Timothy 2:1, the Apostle Paul exhorted young Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul is reminding this young Christian leader that as Believers we started in grace, stand in grace, and are strengthened in grace.  God calls us who have been given such grace to be strong in grace, to be empowered in grace, and to be a witness in a broken world by overflowing with grace.

Mercy ministries give us an opportunity to demonstrate the life-changing grace of Christ to a broken world.  In times of disaster, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers illustrate the grace of Christ by offering unmerited help and kindness to those devastated by the ravaging loss of a disaster event. 

God calls His followers to wade into the muck and to be His agents of grace.  Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief extends the grace of Christ by sharing a hot meal to the hungry, cutting a tree off the home of a widow, bringing clean water to a village, cleaning out the flooded home of our neighbor, or praying with one overwhelmed and broken by loss.

Time and again those whom we minister ask disaster relief volunteers;

“Why would you come and help me?”

“Why would you travel so far, sleep on cots, help someone that you have never met, and do it all at no cost?” 

 I am thankful that we can share with them that it is all because of the grace of Christ.  We offer grace because God has poured out His grace on us. And as we demonstrate that grace it opens doors to share the best news ever that God in His deep love offers that life-changing grace to all who will receive it.

Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief demonstrating the strength of Christ’s grace as they offer help, healing and hope!

Kentucky Joy in the Mourning

Linda Otterback’s ministry has taken a lot of different turns.  In early 2001 she was scheduled for a mission trip to El Salvador.  When the trip had to be cancelled, Linda received a phone call asking if she would like to go to Fleming-Neon instead.  “What country is that in?” Linda asked.

Linda soon learned that Fleming-Neon is in Eastern Kentucky.  She said “yes” to that mission trip, which began the Eastern Kentucky SONrise ministry that is still active today.  Linda and her husband Larry poured their hearts into the Eastern Kentucky area, where they have led prayer meetings, women’s and men’s conferences, gathered much needed resources (clothing, diapers, household furniture, Christmas gifts), and led mission teams to the EKY area.  They have also been such encouragers for many residents, as well as missionaries that serve in eastern Kentucky.

Larry and Linda were married 52 years, grew up in church together, and served together as North American Mission Board MSC Missionaries.  Larry served in this position for 12 years until health issues forced him to step down. On September 30, 2016 Larry went to his heavenly home and Linda was left to serve alone.

After Larry went “home” Linda felt her life was over.  “I couldn’t sleep or eat for almost a year,” she said.  “I cried every night and much during the day. I put on a great face to others, but really had hit the bottom. My kids were concerned that they had lost me also.  But, PTL for friends, family and God who didn’t let me stay there.  I started reading the Psalms in detail after Larry passed. I believe God wrote them for me especially!!  They hadn’t meant as much before, but now I see how HE spoke to me through my trials and valleys.  I still miss my man so very much but have found that God has much yet for me to do.”

The summer before Larry passed, God spoke to Linda in a dream saying she would be doing a widow’s ministry. So, in the midst of her grief, God led Linda to use her experience and her role as a “widow” to begin a ministry to others who had lost their husbands.  Thus, “Kentucky Joy in the Mourning” was born. 

Widows all across Kentucky have challenges and are in need of God, our churches, and each other to help them through this journey.  “Kentucky Joy in the Mourning” reaches out to them to share stories, encourage, minister, and give insight on how to navigate this season of life.

Linda, along with the “Kentucky Joy in the Mourning” team, is available for church workshops, retreats, speaking engagements, luncheons and conferences.  If you know a widow who is struggling, or if you feel led to begin a widow’s ministry in your church, please contact Linda at [email protected].  Visit their website (www.kybaptist.org/widows) to download resources, or connect with “Kentucky Joy in the Mourning” on Facebook.

Praise be to the God… who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

Numbers Matter for the SBC

Their smiles, colorful outfits, upbeat music, movements and songs had the crowd captivated.  While the room was filled with likely 1500 guests, everyone’s attention as they filed toward their tables was on the children.  The IMB hosted dinner at the SBC annual meeting began with the beautiful Swahili children’s choir singing in their heart language.  We then saw the gospel in sign language and later prayed for soon appointed IMB missionaries.  All these special treats represented the importance of numbers for the SBC.    

IMB Dinner SBC 2019

Every year Southern Baptist churches compile internal stats in order to report for the Annual Church Profile (ACP).  Each church sends these numbers to their state convention—numbers which cover multiple categories like membership, worship attendance, small group attendance, baptisms, mission participation, etc.  These numbers intend to represent, for the most part, the health of the local church in a given year.  Numbers represent health ultimately because they represent people.  The SBC is ultimately about people—making disciples of all peoples (Matt 28:16-20).   

While numbers do not tell the whole story, they do reveal an important part of the life of the church.  To minimize numbers is to ignore the importance of numbers in the Bible.  After all, a whole book in the Bible is called Numbers in order to number the people of Israel after their wilderness wondering.  So, while we don’t place all our emphasis upon numbers, we dare not overlook the importance of numbers. 

In fact, the Bible speaks of a great multitude (of people) so large that no one could count the number.  John the revelator wrote in Revelation 7:9-10 of this “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

John’s words in the last book of the Bible remind us that numbers matter, massive numbers at that.  This great multitude gathers around the throne of God and the Lamb declaring that salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb. To be sure, these around the throne are around the throne because salvation brought them there, salvation from God through the Lamb.    

Our new IMB president, Paul Chitwood, reminded us so well this week at our annual SBC meeting why we exist as a denomination (Rev 7:9).  The work is still not complete.  John did not promise an incalculable number from some nations nor a few tribes, peoples and languages, but all!  Jesus will not be worshiped by some peoples of the world and praised by many languages on this planet.  He will be praised and prized by all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. 

We exist for this reason as the Southern Baptist Convention.  Under the “big tent” of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, though differences remain, our common doctrinal commitment allows us, rather compels us, to work together for Revelation 7:9. 

Let’s not forget that numbers matter.  Though not telling the whole story, numbers tell an important one.  We aim for a number so large that no one can count.  We long for people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  To this work we set our sights because numbers matter.