By Lucy Oliver

The silver lining of any tragic emergency is the moment when the smoke finally clears and the heroes emerge. In the many cases of the large fires moving across the dry Arizona landscape, we can immediately celebrate the efforts of first responders, including firefighters and medical personnel. As soon as the evacuations of residents and their pets or livestock take place, we can thank the interconnected coordination of many hardworking organizations like the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

Patty Kirchner, interim director of Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, created and commanded two dynamic teams in June at two very different locations helping families with very similar needs.

“The (American) Red Cross called us up to be feeding partners with them in Globe for those evacuated from the Bush Fire area,” she said. “About the same time, they asked us to assist them in Tucson at an apartment complex that displaced more than 190 residents as the result of a fire there.”

Kirchner outlined how teams are assembled: calls go out to trained volunteers in the nearby areas and those who are available and have the needed skills are gathered together. The groups can do different jobs, such as food preparation in a kitchen unit, providing showers in a bathing unit, bringing non-perishable groceries in a semi truck, and helping with clean-up, building and repairs after a disaster. Every team consists of team leaders, known as “blue hats,” and volunteers, “yellow hats.” They are given a place and time to gather and information on the mission. An approximate timeline is sometimes added, but everyone on the team knows to leave their calendar open when it comes to serving in a time of disaster.

“There’s challenges on every disaster, but you must be flexible,” Kirchner said. “Trust the Lord in it! God knows what you are going to face and you watch for which direction He’s going to take you.”

Flexibility, adaptation and faithfulness are skills needed for this job.

It seems challenges arise at every site. Kirchner gave an example of a challenge the team recently faced in Globe, while on a call to cook for part of the hundreds of evacuees of the Bush Fire.

Ignited by a vehicle fire, The Bush Fire began June 13 and by June 26, it had destroyed more than 190,230 acres of Tonto National Forest to the northeast of Phoenix. It is the fifth largest fire in Arizona history.

“The church we were using as our base kitchen was unavailable for a whole day when they suffered a broken water pipe,” Kirchner said.

The team, in closer quarters, still accomplished the mission of cooking 310 meals in 3 days.

“The good news was that we brought our fully equipped kitchen trailer and had filled the water tank to the top,” Kiorchner said. “So, praise the Lord, we were OK!”

In Tucson, due to the team leadership and daily prayers and morning devotions of Eldon Curry of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Tucson and the culinary talents of lead cook Billie Walker from First Southern Baptist of Glendale at Sahuaro Ranch in Glendale, more than 700 meals were provided by the Disaster Relief team.  More than 190 displaced residents of a three-alarm fire (which began at the Old Spanish Trail Motel on Benson Highway and also affected the families living in the Spanish Trail Suites on the same property) ate delicious beef stew, green beans, peaches and dinner rolls rather than greasy take-out tacos for another meal.

 “Our lead cook in Globe, Brenda Runyon, a member of Cross Church in Surprise even made strawberry cakes as an extra blessing for each evacuee out of the kindness of her heart,” Kirchner said, “That’s so her.”

Teams pray for those they will encounter even if they may not see them face-to-face.

“Now, because of this COVID-19 issue we’re doing things differently, Kirchner said. “The meals are individually delivered to people’s rooms wrapped up in cellophane and sealed up. We are in the background and that’s OK. The Lord knows.”

People working within challenging circumstances who refuse to give up while staying in the background without seeking any applause … The Arizona Southern Baptist Relief teams are the very definition of heroes!