The 2018 hurricane season has been extraordinarily active in parts of the U.S., with Hurricane Florence currently impacting millions in the Carolinas. As this natural disaster unfolds, the staff here at VolunteerMatch is doing its part to ensure that, if you are in an affected community, you are prepared and safe. And if you are looking to help with disaster relief efforts, you know about the most effective ways to contribute.
IMPACT Ministries is a faith-based organization that serves people who
have experienced disasters in life by helping to coordinate volunteers
from churches around the country to support families and communities
where help is most needed. Project areas range from the Gulf Coast and
U.S. Midwest to Southeast Asia, China, and Latin America. Everybody
needs help sometime! Is your help on the way?
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Toni & JD Smith
What does it mean to have a ministry? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to tell a story.
Wilbur, an elderly Cajun man, lived with his wife, Connie, near Waveland, Mississippi. On this part of the Gulf Coast, live oak and cypress forests gave way to shimmering grasslands and long shorelines. Wilbur's house was on stilts – a reminder of the damage that had occurred here in 1969 when Hurricane Camille came ashore nearby.
In August 2005, when the warnings of Hurricane Katrina came, Wilbur begged his wife to leave. She refused – and when he returned home he found only the stilts of the house remaining and Connie's body high in a tree.
Beside the ruins of the house, Connie's precious rose garden appeared dead and gone from the wind and toxic sea water.
JD Smith came across Wilbur a few days after the storm in a scene of utter devastation, and it was clear to see it would take an act of faith to give Wilbur the help he needed.
JD and his wife Toni are co-founders of IMPACT Ministries, a faith-based disaster relief and recovery organization with a ministry to help lives affected by disasters. From its headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., IMPACT coordinates volunteers from hundreds of churches across the country into teams to make an impact at sites around the world. The Gulf Coast is just one area badly in need of disaster recovery help – other current projects sites include the flood-affected U.S. Midwest, Myanmar, China, Argentina and Haiti.
JD says the suffering he witnessed in Waveland was as bad as it gets – and a vital example of what it means to enter deep engagement in the lives of those who need help.
JD helped arrange a burial service for Wilbur's wife, burying her ashes in the rose garden she loved. Soon IMPACT organized a team of 100 volunteers to help rebuild and refurnish the man's house – in fact, it was the first one among its neighbors to be rebuilt.
JD recalls, "The day we moved new furniture into the house, Connie's rose bush was blooming amid everything else that was choked to death."
Today, Wilbur's life is back on track – and whenever the IMPACT Ministries teams are in the area, they know they'll get an invitation to join Wilbur for his famous chicken gumbo.
"Wilbur and countless others like him in the area made it all worthwhile," JD says. "We got to see total and complete devastation and tragedy turn to hope and triumph."
The drama of rebirth and blessing of recovery are at the heart of disaster relief volunteering, and faith-based organizations like IMPACT Ministries are playing a key role in connecting people who care with safe, structured opportunities to pore their heart and soul into their work.
Speaking of hearts, the Smiths originally met while volunteering to help at-risk youth in Charleston, W. Va. JD is an entrepreneur and business management expert, while Toni is a specialist in early childhood education. From their mutual passion for church-based service, a true partnership was forged. Today both are ordained inter-denominational pastors.
"Volunteering is essentially the life of ministry we lead," says Toni. "As we served together, we eventually married and had a family."
The roles that IMPACT fills are both skilled and unskilled volunteers. Plumbers, construction workers, big equipment operators and cooks are all encouraged. But so are teachers, counselors, and grant writers. The main thing is to have passion for helping.
"You can never give more than the Lord will give you," says JD. "If you pour out your life for others, you will get more in return than you can imagine!"
Aside from his amazing gumbo, there's another way Wilbur is expressing appreciation for his new life these days – he's attending church again. In thinking about the power of disaster relief work as ministry, there are some phrases from Isaiah 61 that JD and Toni like to quote that speak of the possibilities of restoration and renewal after disasters:
"A crown of beauty instead of ashes.... Gladness instead of mourning.... Praise instead of the spirit of despair...."
VolunteerMatch is proud to support the critical work of thousands of faith-based member organizations like IMPACT Ministries. If your spiritual path is leading you to a mission of service, search today to find an organization that can connect you with the perfect opportunity!
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