Huge disaster a ‘defining moment’
    August 11 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

    Richard Brunson will tell you every disaster is different.
    The executive director of North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM; also known as Baptists on Mission) remembers Hurricane Katrina as a “defining moment” for NCBM.
    “It was amazing that that many people would give up so much time … and there were people who made 20-30 trips who drove every time,” he said. “They were taking people with them. It was just amazing … even our on-site coordinators. Some of them quit jobs and went down there and worked.”
    Before the hurricane even hit land, more than 80 volunteers along with a convoy of supplies gathered in Meridian, Miss., to wait until it was clear to approach the hard-hit areas.
    Within a week, N.C. volunteers were serving in at least three cities in Mississippi and a town in Alabama. They started with feeding, laundry, water purification and mudout units. Thousands of volunteers poured in from N.C. and from other states.
    “Because we got there early the town, the citizens, the mayor … trusted us a lot,” said Brunson, who added NCBM was asked to coordinate efforts in Gulfport, Miss. “It was one of those defining moments,” he said. “And I think the Lord allowed us to be at a place where there was great need with some really great volunteers who were on-site coordinators.”


    BR file photo
    The first wave of North Carolina Baptist volunteers set up in Meridian, Miss., where they began serving hot meals to Hurricane Katrina survivors Aug. 31.

    Katrina was the United State’s costliest natural disaster ($108 billion) and was among the five deadliest hurricanes with at least 1,833 people dying in the hurricane and the subsequent flooding.
    NCBM was given the use of an old armory, which with the addition of several bunk trailers allowed the organization to host 300 people on site. Local schools and churches offered more housing for the influx of volunteers.
    “That was a great opportunity for a really strong Christian witness and for God to get the glory for compassion, for service and for volunteers investing their time and money and resources,” he said.
    NCBM maintained three on-site coordinators (couples) in the early days of Katrina.
    Brunson said those coordinators made “huge sacrifices” to be there.
    One of the coordinators lost a brother and a grandchild; another lost a son. “They did it out of joy and out of love,” he said.
    Early on, NCBM sent a medical/dental bus to assess the health of evacuees who had been brought to Raleigh. A medical/dental team also worked with evacuees in Charlotte.
    The unit based in Meridian moved on to Lafayette, La., on Sept. 26, when Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast, not even a month after Hurricane Katrina left a wide path of devastation.

    Initially food, water and building supplies had to be hauled in from out of state. NCBM purchased two tanker units to carry around 5,000 gallons of water. Each night a driver would take a tanker to a military base in Pensacola, Fla., fill up with water and bring it back to Gulfport to assist with food preparation, showers, laundry and to give to residents.
    “Some of our equipment that we still use we purchased there out of necessity” for Katrina, Brunson said.


    BR file photo
    From left, Chuck Register, Richard Brunson and Milton A. Hollifield Jr. talk during a weekend of events celebrating N.C. Baptist work in Gulfport, Miss.

    Within two-and-a-half years around 30,000 volunteers from all 50 states and six countries had helped with Katrina recovery efforts.
    The yellow shirts and hats Baptist disaster relief workers wear attracted thanks from people on the street. Physically and spiritually, volunteers made an impact.
    “If you had on a yellow shirt, people would thank [you],” he said. “People paid for meals at restaurants.”

    Unique situation

    “There was something about Katrina,” Brunson said. “It was on the news so much. There were a lot of heart-breaking stories.”
    Volunteers would make the trip down to the Gulf Coast and come back telling stories of what they had seen. Then, they would return with other volunteers.
    The partnership in Gulfport lasted for several years. NCBM helped with more than 700 houses in the Gulfport area.
    In 2008, NCBM finished its commitment in the Gulfport area.
    Ceremonies were held Jan. 12-13, 2008, to commemorate N.C. Baptists and their efforts.
    A Jan. 19, 2008, Biblical Recorder story quoted Brunson from an event held at the armory where thousands of volunteers were based during recovery efforts: “Thank you for making us from North Carolina feel like your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, your sons and daughters.”
    Volunteers were recognized at Gulfport’s First Baptist Church (FBC) where Chuck Register was pastor. Register is now the executive leader of church planting and missions partnerships for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
    Another service was hosted by the city of Gulfport, also held at FBC. The Gulfport City Council proclaimed Jan. 13 as “North Carolina Baptist Men Appreciation Day.” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour announced a similar decree.
    “Our lives are richer and will never be the same,” Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, said at the time.

    N.C. expansion

    The situation caused NCBM to jumpstart its child care ministry as well as expand its feeding capacity. Sleeper units were new to NCBM for Katrina. Since then, they have been used at other disaster sites.
    “We learned a lot about being there long term,” including the importance of on-site coordinators, Brunson said. “If you can provide housing, meals, logistics you can make it possible for a lot more people to get involved in missions.”
    NCBM’s two mission camps – Red Springs and Shelby – came directly out of what the organization learned through Katrina.
    In fact, Red Springs Mission Camp was the recipient of the kitchen used at the armory in Gulfport as well as beds, mattresses, folding chairs and many of the tools bought or donated during the Katrina recovery efforts. “Every disaster is different,” Brunson said. NCBM leaders realized they could recreate some of the logistics at the camps to offer ongoing opportunities for volunteers.
    “We realized these people who are driving from North Carolina have big hearts and have all kinds of skills and are making a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
    “If we can get them to continue … let’s provide opportunities any time they want to go to impact people physically and spiritually.”
    Brunson wishes NCBM could respond to every disaster but knows that is impossible.
    NCBM offers training opportunities in the spring for various regions so people can get certified for various ministries.
    Another long-term partnership continues in New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
    “Sandy wasn’t on the news nearly as much as Katrina,” he said. There is an ongoing need for volunteers there as well as at other sites. Brunson credits Katrina with NCBM’s willingness to commit to more long-term projects like Sandy.
    NCBM receives funding through the North Carolina Missions Offering (, which also supports church planting, associational projects, mission camps and mobilization ministry projects, or directly to the organization at
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Dianna Cagle is production editor for the Biblical Recorder.)

    Related Story:

    Katrina: 10 years later the Gulfport story

    8/11/2015 12:52:11 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments
    Filed under: disaster relief, Hurricane Katrina, North Carolina Baptists on Mission

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