Widow finds purpose as disaster relief chaplain

Bonnie Jacobs found purpose serving as a chaplain and chainsaw team volunteer with Texas Baptist Men disaster relief.

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After her husband’s death in 2015, Bonnie Jacobs searched for something to give her purpose in a new season of life.

Sensing a call to serve people dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy, she soon found that purpose in disaster relief ministries—first in Georgia, then later with Texas Baptist Men disaster relief.

Serving as both a chaplain and a member of a TBM chainsaw team, Jacobs of Saginaw helped meet immediate relief needs and had the opportunity to sit with individuals and families to meet spiritual needs and share the gospel.

“What gets me excited is all about people,” she said. “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,” said Jacobs, who has been on more than 50 disaster relief deployments. But 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,” she said.

Opportunities to share the gospel

Disaster relief team members prayerfully participate in spiritual conversations, Jacobs said. The ministry 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 typically are received with trust and acceptance.

During a disaster relief deployment after Hurricane Laura, Jacobs led two people to faith in Christ and connected them with local churches.

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

‘Easy way to walk into a gospel conversation’

As Jacobs sat with one woman who was frail from kidney failure and other health complications following Hurricane Laura, the woman told her, “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, she said, noting she believes the Holy Spirit had prepared the woman’s heart to be receptive, as evidenced by her making a profession of faith in Christ.

Learning that the woman was preparing to go into a major kidney transplant surgery, Jacobs said, “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.”

Since 2016, Jacobs has pursued studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Whether teaching her Sunday school class or ministering to people faced with tragedy, she believes 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,” said 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.”

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