As proud as the American Red Cross is of its unsurpassed reputation for delivering life sustaining services to people in times of disaster, the organization is always conscious of the fact that it has not achieved its success without the support and collaboration of many community partners. Among the most prominent of these is the Southern Baptist Convention, whose members and equipment cook the great majority of the meals that the Red Cross delivers and serves.
The Baptists’ mobile food kitchens are the responsibility of the North American Mission Board of the Convention, which sets the standards and guidelines for the food operation. The NAMB Disaster Relief program was established under the Southern Baptist auspices in 1967, but it was after entering into formal agreements with the Red Cross that its program has grown in spectacular fashion.
“Our work has clearly mushroomed to its present status following the 9/11 attack on New York City,” explained The Rev. Gordon Herb, who represents the Kansas/Nebraska Convention Relief work. Rev. Herb is a retired minister who serves as one of the chaplains in the group. He came with seventeen of his colleagues from Wichita, KS to participate in the food preparation program at the Deer Park, Long Island, NY mobile kitchen. The Arkansas Convention provided the primary kitchen equipment in place on Long Island, and they are assisted by volunteers from Mississippi and New York as well as the Kansas contingent.
When asked to describe the most satisfying aspect of preparing 45,000 meals per day for the Red Cross, Rev. Herb replied thoughtfully, “It is the opportunity to provide a ministry to so many people whose lives are in terrible turmoil, and need the benefit of a spiritual uplift to see them through. Supplying their physical needs opens up a door to their spiritual needs as well.” Rev. Herb was quick to point out that in the agreements under which The Southern Baptists operate their program, the Red Cross is fully aware of, and sympathetic toward, the missionary emphasis they place on this form of ministry. Because of a guiding principle of Neutrality, the Red Cross takes no position on matters which are political, racial, religious or ideological in nature. Therefore, the Red Cross is no more Christian than it is Muslim, or Jewish. Yet, it safeguards the equal right of all of its partners to follow their own principles in the common effort to relieve human suffering.
“We do more than cook meals,” Rev. Herb points out. “In addition to the mobile kitchens, we also furnish mobile showers and laundry units. Further, we have chain saw units, with well trained operators, to bring along when the results of a disaster require it.”