Southwestern team assists with clean-up at tornado-damaged Oklahoma Baptist University, community
Following the touchdown of 13 confirmed tornadoes on April 19 that struck and damaged parts of Oklahoma, including the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) in Shawnee, Oklahoma, a group of students, faculty, and staff from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College traveled to the Shawnee, Oklahoma, campus to assist with clean-up.
Led by Chandler Snyder, interim vice president for enrollment and student services, the group of 16 Southwestern Seminary and TBC students, faculty, and staff spent April 25 working with OBU and Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
OBU’s President Heath Thomas is a 2001 Master of Arts in theology graduate of Southwestern.
The Southwestern Seminary and TBC group was broken up into three teams that helped in various areas of need during the first half of the day. One group stayed on the OBU campus and cleaned up around the university’s counseling center to allow students to get the immediate help they needed. Another group went to the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief base of operations at Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee to assist with preparing food for volunteers and others in need. The third group assisted directly with the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief in clearing debris from the yards of those affected by the storm while also providing prayer and Bibles for all those assisted.
Michael Copeland, assistant professor of missions at TBC and associate director of the World Missions Center, is a Bachelor of Arts graduate of OBU who felt that he should go on the trip to help clean up and care for his alma mater.
“I was very impressed with the students that felt very propelled to go,” said Copeland. “It took a lot of initiative for them to do that.”
Copeland, along with several students, worked on the OBU campus clearing up debris and fencing that had been destroyed during the tornado. “If it were one or two people doing this work, it would take days to clear it up,” said Copeland. “We just wanted to help students be able to return to campus safely for the end of the semester.”
Another OBU alumnus who assisted on the trip was Renee Maynard, a Justin, Texas, native who is also a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern and an admissions coordinator in the Office of Admissions. “It warms my heart knowing that a body of believers served in many different capacities to show the joy and love of Christ,” said Maynard. “It was very encouraging that we can move on, but still serve and love one another after graduating and changing schools.”
Christopher Williams, a Master of Divinity student from Madrid, Spain, and assistant in the Office of Student Financial Services, said he assisted by making “sandwiches and other food items for the workers and for some people that needed food.”
Williams noted that the most encouraging part of the trip was that the average age of the other volunteers they encountered was around 70 years old. “The fact that these people could be living the nice, retired life, but chose to serve their community is amazing to me,” said Williams. “They’re sleeping on make-shift beds and getting little sleep, but they are volunteering their time and effort to serve others.”
Another student who was encouraged by the age of the volunteers was Daniel Fresnillo, a student enrolled in the 5-year program at TBC and Southwestern from Farmersville, Texas. “I was so encouraged by the age demographic there,” said Fresnillo. “I wasn’t expecting young people, but I was blown away by the number of older gentlemen and ladies who were being faithful with their time.”
Fresnillo assisted with the debris clean-up in the community as the Southwestern Seminary and TBC team cut up trees and moved them so the city could dispose of them safely. “We would clean up all of the trash and limbs and take them to the street or alley for these houses,” said Fresnillo. “After we were done, it was so great being able to provide the households with a Bible signed by everyone who volunteered.”
After the group of Southwesterners helped in different groups in the morning, they all worked together to help remove a large tree that had affected three houses in the community. “The weather was very rough for the morning,” said Williams, noting the rainstorm that moved through the area the day the team volunteered. “Luckily, it cleared up after lunch and we were able to help clean up those backyards that were affected by that tree.”
During the afternoon clean-up, some of the group was able to share the Gospel with different people in the community while the tree was broken down and cleaned up. “I got to see some good conversations happen because students were being very intentional about how they talked to the people there,” said Copeland. “I felt that those encounters with the owners of the homes was a huge blessing.”
Copeland said that “working with the Baptist Relief, or even just OBU, everyone was very grateful, very kind, and hosted us well.” He said that the organizations “utilized the gift” that the students brought, their time and effort, “very well,” and it was “phenomenal.”
Michelle Huckleberry, a Master of Theological Studies student from Jacksonville, North Carolina, also went with the team from Southwestern. Huckleberry said that the “leadership from Chandler Snyder and Dr. Copeland was amazing.” She added that “they would lead and start serving, we would just try to keep up.”
To learn more about the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, please visit here.