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Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief aids woman, removes trees

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 8, 2010 at 6:08 a.m.
Updated Dec. 10, 2010 at 6:10 a.m.

Joe Hollan, a volunteer with the Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief, practices proper chain-saw cutting techniques on a dead tree in front of Victoria resident Cindy Durham's home. The Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief volunteers gathered at Durham's home several weeks ago to get specialized chain-saw training for the organization.

Joe Hollan, a volunteer with the Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief, practices proper chain-saw cutting techniques on a dead tree in front of Victoria resident Cindy Durham's home. The Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief volunteers gathered at Durham's home several weeks ago to get specialized chain-saw training for the organization.

Jack Todd has a mission: to grow men and women in their relationship with Jesus Christ. But he doesn't preach, or plant churches to achieve his mission - he recruits men and women of all faiths to train with the coastal plains region of the Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief.

"It's all volunteer, and it's so fulfilling," the 70-year-old Todd said, wearing his Texas Baptist Men yellow ball cap and identification badge.

"These are the only two parts of our uniform," he said smiling.

The Dallas-based non-profit organization, whose motto is "Anyway, Anytime, Anywhere," aims to provide hands-on relief for domestic and international individuals affected by hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados and other natural disasters through sending trained volunteers to their aid. Worldwide, Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief provides a range of ministries in agriculture, aviation, church renewal, water purification, veterinary care, victim relief, restorative justice and many others.

The organization's relief efforts have increased so rapidly since its start in 1967, its response to natural disasters is exceeded only by the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

"We don't do it for the rewards, we do it out of love, and it's so amazing to help someone else. Their gratitude is overwhelming," Todd said,

Because of Victoria's vulnerable location near the Gulf of Mexico, Todd said it isn't unreasonable to train for a hurricane, or any natural disasters that may arise unexpectedly in the future. And to do it in Jesus' name makes the effort all the more rewarding, Todd said.

It was only a few years ago in 2007 that Todd began his "Yellow Cap" orientation with Texas Baptist Men at Parkway Church, one of the area Baptist churches that regularly holds training for the organization.

"I realized after I joined and went to Houston to help with the special needs feeding unit when Hurricane Ike hit, that there was not enough training offered locally to get people ready if there was ever a disaster," Todd said.

So, Todd set out to change that, recruiting locally from his home church at Northside Baptist and generally spreading the word around town.

"You don't have to be Baptist, or a man, or be from Texas to join," Todd said, grinning. "We take men and women, couples, of all walks in life."

Texas Baptist Men's training programs are comprehensive, consisting of 11 major disaster teams, including mass feeding, shower and laundry, water purification, victim relief chaplains, clean out, child care, blue tarp and assessment teams to name a few. As a person becomes more enveloped with the organization, they go through the various areas of specialized training, and when needed, respond to disaster and service calls.

Recently, Todd and area Texas Baptist Men volunteers had the opportunity to gain specialized chain saw training, while simultaneously meeting the need of a Victoria woman who couldn't afford to remove oversized rotted trees from her lawn.

Cindy Durham lives across the street from fellow Baptist Men Disaster Relief volunteer Mike Lucas, who suggested to Todd that they help remove his neighbor's trees.

"The trees died, and she got some bids to take them down, but it was too expensive," Lucas said. "If we were going to remove the trees, we thought we may as well kill two birds with one stone and get the chain-saw training."

With two Houston-based master chain-saw trainers, Todd and about a half dozen volunteers met at Northside Church on a Saturday at 8 a.m. to orient themselves on proper chain-saw use.

Following the orientations, the men traveled to Durham's house and spent the next three hours removing two rotted pine trees and one large oak tree from her property - free of charge.

"I didn't have any money to cut them down, and Mike told me the Texas Baptist Men occasionally has training sessions on tree removal," Durham said. "It was just so amazing to watch them climb these 75- and 80-feet-high trees and cut them down. It was a good feeling to know your burden had been lifted."

When the men completed the job, they stacked the pile of limbs in Durham's front yard to be hauled away by the city. And should there ever be a natural disaster where tree removal is necessary, there's at least six Victoria men who've been trained to properly, promptly and safely remove them.

"There's so much negative in the world, and it was good to see people doing good, just to do good. It started off the holiday season nicely," Durham said.

And now that Durham has been touched by the generosity of the Texas Baptist Men, she's inclined to volunteer herself.

"Maybe it's something I'll get involved with, I'm considering joining in the future," she said. "It would be worthwhile to be a part of something that gives back to the community. And because I was helped, maybe I can return that favor."

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