How Southern Baptists Brought Their Ministries to Furloughed Federal Workers Across the Country During Government Shutdown

A DR volunteer prepares meals at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Disaster Relief Center for delivery to federal prison workers. BGCO photo

WASHINGTON (BP) — When portions of the federal government shut down, Southern Baptists ramped up their ministries to furloughed federal workers across the country.

President Trump announced today (Jan. 25) he would sign a bill opening the government until Feb. 15 while lawmakers finalize legislation to increase border security. Still, some federal employees missed their second paycheck, and the partial shutdown stretched into a record-setting 35th day.

Amid the shutdown, Southern Baptists also attempted to bring Christian principles to bear on the legislative impasse between Trump and Congress regarding federal spending.

“We’re here to help,” said Don Williams, an Oklahoma disaster relief leader shepherding an operation that serves three meals daily to federal workers. Meanwhile, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ethics professor Evan Lenow said the apparent “lack of civility among our elected officials sets a poor example for the rest of the citizenry.”

Some 800,000 federal workers are affected by the shutdown and will not be paid until the government reopens fully. Legislation signed Jan. 17 by Trump guarantees back pay for furloughed workers once government reopens. For contract workers, back pay is uncertain.

Gift card distributions, free meals and concerted prayer efforts were among the ways believers sought to help federal employees in a financial bind. Dave Ramsey — a personal finance author and speaker who has partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention — offered financial counsel to furloughed workers.

‘Families who are suffering’

First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., distributed $16,500 in grocery store gift cards to furloughed federal workers at a Jan. 17 community event hosted by the church. With a $50 gift card given to each worker, it took just 30 minutes to expend the entire supply. First Baptist drew $14,000 from its emergency fund, and members gave an additional $2,500 for the ministry.

“My only regret is that we didn’t have more to give,” pastor Travis Collins told The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.

More than 700 people attended the event, which also featured booths manned by community aid organizations. About 40,000 federal workers reside in the Huntsville area between NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Redstone Arsenal U.S. Army post.

In Oklahoma, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers served 900 meals per day to Federal Bureau of Prisons employees at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City beginning Jan. 22. The 300 employees there help transport prisoners throughout the federal prison system.

The meal service operation was manned by 15-20 DR volunteers who worked daily from 4 a.m. until 4 p.m., said Williams, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s disaster relief director.

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Source: Baptist Press