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Disaster Relief Team offers hope in midst of disaster

Suzi McKee • Nov 27, 2017 at 4:30 PM

When Hurricane Harvey arrived in Texas in August 2017, the stalled-out storm system dumped from 25 to 50 inches of rain over the span of only a few days. In September, Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on Puerto Rico and delivered one of the worst natural disasters in the island’s history. As news of these disasters dominated the news, locally the Sullivan Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team began to mobilize to offer hope in the midst of disaster.

Director Jim Ramey knew that he would have to pull his team together and warm the hearts, souls and stomachs of those people who were in desperate need of water, food and a kind spirit to encourage them through these difficult times.

Ramey who has been involved with Disaster Relief since 1987 has long known that the suffering of his neighbors around the country and world needs immediate attention with organization, leadership and the basic needs of people when disaster strikes. “Everyone has a calling,” Jim explained, “and I know that this is what I am called to do.” In fact, Ramey’s mantra in life can be summed up in one sentence: “Your purpose in life is not to be happy; it’s to be useful, honorable, compassionate and, in the end, to have made a difference.”

Local organizations that include the Holston Baptist Association, Holston Valley Baptist Association and the Watauga Baptist Association work with the Sullivan Baptist Association under one umbrella as a strong team that comprises the largest operational feeding unit in the state of Tennessee. “In fact,” Jim continued, “ours is one of the eight largest units in the United States of this size and capability. With our 80-person volunteer team, we can easily feed a city the size of Kingsport which is 45,000 meals per day.”

Funding to support this community outreach comes from donations. Some churches send a monthly contribution while others conduct special offerings to assist when disasters like those in August and September become overwhelming. Promise Ministries recently donated a van which was greatly needed to transport the team from location to location. “And on top of that, they gave a donation of $7,000 which was just simply a God-thing. These folks just saw a need and responded,” Ramey added.

Matthew 25:35 says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Ramey explains that this is one verse that embodies the spirit of the Sullivan Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team. “We do a lot of rebuilding. For instance we helped to rebuild homes in West Virginia after the floods, we worked in Gatlinburg after the fires last summer, and we’re going to help rebuild in Puerto Rico in the upcoming months,” he continued.

Another verse that Ramey identifies with in his walk of faith is Galatians 6:2. “The Bible tells us that we are to ‘carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ’ and everybody has a burden which means that we have ample opportunity to do the work of Christ as we help our neighbors. You know,” Ramey added, “disaster relief is more than just giving food and drink to people; it’s all about caring. It’s much easier to speak with someone about Christ after he’s eaten and not worried about his immediate situation.”

In Texas, the Disaster Relief Team took special care of Texas State Troopers who came in small numbers for breakfast at first. Only four came that first morning but as news of delicious food spread among the troopers more than 30 began coming each day.

In Puerto Rico, the team saw some of the most challenging conditions they had ever seen.

“We used the Pastor’s four-burner stove but still served 285 meals a day with a 20-person team,” Ramey shared. “We asked for ladies who spoke English to teach us how to prepare meals the way that they normally do. The two ladies who stepped up were phenomenal; it’s important to fix meals the way people are accustomed to eating.”

When the Disaster Relief Team first arrived in Puerto Rico, the pastor in the little town where they worked gave a sermon entitled, “Put on your boots and get ready to work.” When the Sullivan Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team prepared to leave, Jim Ramey gave his own work boots to the pastor along with his prized Dewalt Drill and said, “Pastor, it’s time to put on your boots and get to work.” That evoked an emotional moment between a Christian man from East Tennessee and a Puerto Rican minister who now share a common bond of compassion and caring that embodies the spirit of God among His people no matter their location.

Donations to the Sullivan Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team can be mailed to Sullivan Baptist Association Disaster Relief Team, 1377 Dewey Avenue, Kingsport, TN 37664.

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