A Southern Baptist disaster-relief volunteer died March 29 while on a flood recovery mission in Leesville, La.
Don Fulkerson, 77, a member of First Baptist Church in Galatia, Ill., died from a heart attack while serving on a team of Illinois Baptists dispatched March 20 to respond to massive flooding that damaged more than 7,000 homes and affected 28 parishes in Louisiana.
According to the Illinois Baptist State Association Facebook page, it was Fulkerson’s 15th disaster response over a period of just four years. As usual, he was working alongside his wife, Margie. “Their faithful service to Christ brought great joy to both of them as they served side by side in the ministry of disaster relief,” said Rex Alexander, state disaster relief coordinator.
Fulkerson’s death cut short an assignment expected to last several weeks, possibly into May. Team member Don Kragness said on Faceook the group was returning to Illinois to bring Margie Fulkerson home.
Illinois Baptists redeployed three 53-foot long semi-trailers outfitted as a feeding unit capable of providing 40,000 meals a day originally bound for Flint, Mich., to Louisiana because nearby disaster-response teams that normally would have been first to respond were already dealing with flooding in their own states.
Southern Baptist Men have been organizing relief responses to natural disasters since Hurricane Carla ravaged Texas in 1961, but the Texas Baptist Men response to victims of Hurricane Beulah in the Rio Grande Valley in 1967 is considered the date when Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was born.
Texas Baptist Men established the first disaster relief mobile unit in 1971, followed by other Baptist state conventions. In 1984 the SBC Brotherhood Commission began coordinating those efforts, convening a national workshop attended by than 125 volunteers from 11 states.
The Brotherhood Commission was eliminated in a denominational restructuring in 1995, and responsibility for coordinating disaster relief was transferred to the newly minted North American Mission Board. It soon became one of NAMB’s highest-profile humanitarian ministries.
Last year NAMB reported 22,271 volunteer days, 126,160 meals prepared, 756 chainsaw jobs, 1,232 flood recovery jobs, 208 temporary roof repairs, 17,596 showers, 4,129 laundry loads, 5,158 chaplaincy contacts and caring for 2,549 children. Volunteers reported 11,352 ministry contacts, 1,454 Bibles distributed, 1,325 gospel presentations and 214 professions of faith.
NAMB President Kevin Ezell extended condolences to Fulkerson’s family.
“Southern Baptists are blessed with the best disaster relief volunteers in the world, and Don was an important part of that team,” said Ezell, whose former pastorates include First Baptist Church of Marion, Ill. “He is a great example of someone who chose to stay active into his later years and to contribute in a way that truly made a difference in the lives of others. I pray that his wife Margie and his entire family will feel God’s love and comfort during these days and that they will also be aware of the gratitude and appreciation for them from their entire Southern Baptist family.”