Arizona Mission Offering at Work: Expect the unexpected in Disaster Relief

By Irene A. Harkleroad | Aug 1, 2022

Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers look for valuables among the ashes of a home destroyed in the Tunnel Fire in Flagstaff.

You never know when God is going to drop a gospel opportunity right into your lap.

It could be in the midst of tangled metal and ash in burned homes after an Arizona fire, or in the sloshing, smelly flood waters of Louisiana just days after a major hurricane. Maybe, even when someone’s down on their luck and just needs someone to talk to.

Really, you just never know.

A group of Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers didn’t see it coming. How could they?

Recovery teams were busy reclaiming the foundations of homes that burned to the ground during the Tunnel Fire in Flagstaff. They hauled twisted metal, rocks and rebar and dragged melted box springs and appliances, transforming them into massive heaps inside industrial size walk-in dumpsters.

Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief incident command coordinated efforts with Coconino County and managed work orders and teams.

A two-person assessment team met with property owners to evaluate the scope of the jobs and get them on the schedule. A chaplain lent an empathetic ear, ready to listen and pray at any moment.

The feeding team set up business at First Southern Baptist Church of Flagstaff. They unloaded the food and supplies from the warehouse trailer, and the cooking commenced.

The shower/laundry unit opened its doors to the tired, dusty, bedraggled men and women on the teams.

The clean (but still tired) volunteers enjoyed comforting, nutritious meals and snacks for the duration. Okay, maybe the snacks weren’t always nutritious.

Nevertheless, the comradery, morning and evening devotions and prayer fed body and spirit.

Of course, workers prayed for a chance to share Christ with homeowners, as well as the workers who brought the dumpsters, the heavy equipment operators and anyone else they came in contact with.

But then that “dropped in your lap” opportunity surprises you.

Sandy*, who was temporarily homeless, saw Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers staying at First Southern Baptist Church of Flagstaff and connected with them. On the morning the volunteers were packing to leave, she talked with a chaplain and accepted Christ as her Savior.

At the end of a long day, while teams were waiting for dinner, a woman stopped by the church. One of the volunteers met her on the sidewalk. Although the woman seemed hesitant, she was looking for someone to talk to.

She explained her situation as temporarily homeless and asked if she could park in the parking lot overnight. The First Southern Pastor Jim Maynard spoke with her. As a rule, the church does not allow anyone to park overnight for safety reasons. Since the Disaster Relief teams were housing there, he made an exception.

“Our volunteers invited Sandy* to stay for dinner,” said Patty Kirchner, director of Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

“Over the next few days, several of our chaplains and other volunteers began to learn her story. We invited her to join us in the morning and evening devotions.

“As we shared our lives and Christ’s love with her, she began to ask questions. Later, she told us that she saw and experienced something she hadn’t in the church she had been part of since she was a child.

“On the morning the teams were packing to leave Flagstaff, one of our chaplains had another conversation with Sandy*. That’s when she asked if she could receive Christ. Chaplain Sue led her to the Lord.”

Some team members stayed in touch with her and report that since that unexpected “special delivery” opportunity, God has blessed Sandy with a new job, an apartment and a church family. Pray for her as she grows in the Lord.

Gospel opportunities can come when we least expect them. Scripture tells us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Help, healing and hope take many forms. Sometimes it involves heavy equipment, or long sweaty hours in a mobile kitchen, but the ultimate goal of any service is leading a person to a life-changing relationship with our Lord Jesus.

Because you give to the Arizona Mission Offering, you help Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief meet this goal.

*Name changed

Irene A. Harkleroad, a freelance writer living in Carefree, is a member of Black Mountain Baptist Church, Cave Creek.

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