Loving Oklahoma volunteers fill out paperwork at Emmanuel Baptist Church in McLoud, Okla., last week. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)
Loving Oklahoma volunteers fill out paperwork at Emmanuel Baptist Church in McLoud, Okla., last week. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)

'Loving OK' succeeds despite low turnout

'Loving Oklahoma' forged ties between CBF and BGCT disaster-relief organizers, an achievement that overshadows the fact that 135 volunteers – not the 1,000 hoped for – turned up, organizers say.

By Jeff Brumley

Last week’s “Loving Oklahoma” tornado recovery campaign saw inspiring cooperation between Texas Baptists and Cooperative Baptists, but fell way short of its goal of drawing the 1,000 volunteers organizers wanted.

Even so, planners said concerted effort to help those affected by the May tornadoes has created a blueprint that the two Baptist organizations can use to better help those in need.

“The highlight was working alongside Texas Baptist Disaster Response, and that we could collaborate together in this effort,” said Tommy Deal, CBF disaster response coordinator. “We had never done anything of that magnitude before.”

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A June project, following April's fertilizer plant blast in West, Texas, covered an area measured in numbers of city blocks. The area affected by the Oklahoma twisters, by comparison, covered at least 200 square miles, organizers said.

To cover that region, CBF Oklahoma disaster planners operated from First Baptist Church in Norman, where several volunteer teams were housed for the Aug. 5-9 recovery event. Texas Baptist disaster officials, meanwhile, staged from Emmanuel Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in McLoud. Volunteer teams reported to those locations for daily briefings and work orders.

Altogether it proved Baptists can unite around helping others even when they aren’t unified theologically, Deal said.

“The lesson here … is to put our heads and resources together and have a larger impact on rebuilding and recovery.”

However, Deal added that the volunteer levels didn’t add up to the need.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t have the numbers we were hoping,” he said.

LovingOK 130But Marla Bearden, disaster-response specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, expressed no disappointment when announcing the final tally via e-mail this week.

“Loving Oklahoma,” she said, “went fantastic. We ended up with 135 total volunteers” who “completed 40 jobs and worked 2,640 total man hours.”

Those jobs included debris cleanup, roofing, siding, framing and doing home foundation work. They also demolished one home and helped sort and inventory donations at the furniture bank of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. A number of disaster victims were counseled by volunteers who represented 28 different churches, Bearden said.

Deal said there was only three weeks between the project's conception and start date, giving organizers little time to advertise it. He said the time of year was also against them as families and churches wind down travels and missions and begin to focus on the school year.

But even so, he added, “Loving Oklahoma” was worth the effort.

“A lot of great testimonies were heard,” he said. “Most reflected that they had come to help and be a blessing, but ended up receiving the blessings themselves.”