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Student ministers to hurricane victims through disaster relief ministry

Student ministers to hurricane victims through disaster relief ministry

Katie Coleman
| Sep 25, 2020

Following the death of her husband in 2015, Bonnie Jacobs searched for something that would give her purpose in a new season of life. Having a particular calling to serve those dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy, she quickly found that purpose in disaster relief ministries in Georgia, and then later with Texas Baptist Men (TBM) Disaster Relief.

Jacobs is a 2019 Master of Theological Studies graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Education. This past August, she joined the TBM’s two-week deployment to Orange, Texas, following the impact of Hurricane Laura.

Serving as both a chaplain and a member of the chainsaw team, Jacobs was not only integral to the immediate relief needs, but she also had the opportunity to sit with individuals and families to meet spiritual needs and share with them the hope of the Gospel.

“What gets me excited is all about people,” Jacobs says. “It’s meeting people when they have been through a trauma or a terrible crisis in their life and to be able to minister to them in their brokenness.”

“Every time I go, I think I know what to expect,” Jacobs says, who has been on more than 50 disaster relief deployments. However, she adds, each deployment brings with it new people experiencing a new trauma. “I think I know I can deal with it, but every time I’ve gone into a disaster area, my heart is just broken for these people.”

Although the teams are primarily there to aid in disaster relief, Jacobs says they prayerfully initiate Gospel conversations with people. While they avoid a heavy-handed approach to their evangelism during a stressful time in these people’s lives, she says the work usually provides natural opportunities to share the Gospel.

Most often, the conversations happen over the course of a day spent clearing out debris. Disaster relief teams often build a bond with the families they are serving, so such conversations are typically received with a level of trust and acceptance.

During this August’s trip to Orange, Texas, Jacobs says she had the opportunity to lead two people to faith in Christ and connect them with local churches.

“The most rewarding part dvof any deployment is seeing someone come to know the Lord,” Jacobs says, “especially if I’ve been the one who’s been able to walk them through the Scriptures and show them.”

As she engages others in conversation, Jacobs says she usually asks a straightforward question about their relationship with Jesus, often asking, “Who do you think Jesus is?”

As Jacobs sat with one woman who was frail from kidney failure and other health complications following Hurricane Laura, the woman said, “I talk to God sometimes, but I don’t know if He is hearing me or not.”

“What an easy way to walk into a Gospel conversation,” Jacobs reflected.

The conversation moved quickly, Jacobs says, adding that she believes the Holy Spirit had prepared the woman’s heart to be receptive, as evidenced by her making a profession of faith. 

Learning that the woman was preparing to go into a major kidney transplant surgery, Jacobs says, “She couldn’t have gotten right with the Lord at a more opportune time. I told her that now she knows Jesus, she knows He is going to be with her through every step of the process of that operation, but if something were to happen, she is ready to meet Him.”

Jacobs says her time studying at Southwestern Seminary since 2016 has dramatically changed how she does ministry. Whether teaching her Sunday School class or ministering to people faced with tragedy, she says she is better equipped to respond to the difficult questions.“The reason I even began seminary at my age was because I wanted to have better answers for people who were suffering,” says Jacobs, 65. “I wanted to know more about God, and I wanted to know more about how He works. The experience of being in school is helping me, because there have been so many times when I have been able to fall back on something I didn’t previously know about God.”