FaithHealth Hero: Richard Brunson
By Melanie Raskin
Richard Brunson is waiting. It is Sept. 4, and Category 2 Hurricane Dorian is churning up the East Coast toward North Carolina. He has done all he can: He has contacted churches to help stage people and supplies, alerted volunteers and reached out to other states for possible support.
There is a tingle, a feeling he gets in his gut: It is a familiar high-alert energy that needs someplace to go. Fast. He is strung tight like an archer’s bow, ready to release into the disaster area hundreds of caring Baptists on Mission volunteers. Their target? Anyone who is hurting and needs help in the aftermath of the storm.
That’s why Richard Brunson is a FaithHealth Hero.
Brunson joined Baptists on Mission part time in 1982, went full time in 1987 and became executive director in 1992. He mobilizes churches and individuals across the globe to make an impact using their gifts of spirit. Volunteers serve in 18 ministries around the world, including medical/dental, reconstruction/rebuilding/handyman, meals, colleges, families, international missions, prayer, children, men, church renewal, agriculture, sports/recreation, aviation and disaster relief/recovery.
An ordained pastor, he doesn’t serve a church; he serves the world. His flock isn’t in a church pew; they are in the trenches, volunteering in communities to help others in need. Jesus’ words perfectly sum up his service philosophy: As the Father sent me, I am sending you. Brunson firmly and enthusiastically believes every Christian is a minister. They’re just waiting for God’s prodding. But he is quick to point out that he is part of a team, quipping, “There is a sign on my wall I refer to often. It says, ‘Lord let your miracles break forth every day, and let me not get in the way.’ Our staff and volunteers are tremendous—my job is to stay out of their way!”
Leland Kerr, Baptist health care liaison, has seen Brunson’s philosophy in action for more than 30 years. “A hero is someone who shares the love of Christ in any situation they find themselves. That’s Richard,” says Kerr. “He loves people—both those who are hurting and those who want to serve. He has a real passion for helping volunteers find their gifts in ministry. He puts people where they need to be and turns them loose to do the work.”
It’s working. National agencies (the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, state governments) trust Brunson because they’ve seen his integrity and follow-through, reliability and accountability, over the last 37 years.
“They know Baptists on Mission won’t hit-and-run,” Kerr explains. “After Hurricane Katrina, Baptists on Mission stayed for over five years to finish the job of helping folks rebuild their homes and move forward. And they have a long-term, two-year commitment to rebuild after 2018’s destructive Hurricane Florence. They work as long as it takes to get people back into their homes. Richard reminds us when people are hurting, we need to respond.”
Case in point: Brunson tells a story of a homeowner devastated by Hurricane Florence in 2018. His wife had a stroke, and his house was flooded. The man was in such despair, he was contemplating taking his own life. Baptists on Mission arrived and turned everything around for the family.
“Hope is the greatest thing we can provide in times of uncertainty and change,” Brunson comments. “Yes, people need professionals on the job to rebuild homes and clean up communities, but I believe they also need us. We are different. We take the time to get to know the people we are helping, we pray with them, we talk with them, we listen to them. Knowing that we make a difference in even one person’s life motivates me. This is what I was created to do. This is where I get my biggest joy.”
Brunson uses an unusual combination of empathy and activation to keep people ready and engaged. “Empathy is all about seeing people who need support and wanting to help,” he explains. “The activation part has me always thinking three steps ahead, whether it’s placing people or getting supplies. For instance, if the food hasn’t shown up on a site, I’ve already thought about where I can go to get some and keep our mission on track. Yes, there are obstacles. Sure, we can feel overwhelmed. But at the end of the day, we follow our gut, we block out that little voice that only wants to talk about the problems, we return to God’s leading and we make progress.”
To Brunson, the perfect world in terms of service is one of great activity—and great surrender. “I think about all the needs,” he says. “I think about the volunteers. I think about all the ways we could make a difference. But we have to remember what Ephesians 3 tells us: God is able to do more than we can ever imagine. This is God’s work, and He is going to accomplish what is important and makes a difference. That is my perfect world: a place where all Christians see that they are gifted, called and sent to use their gifts to glorify God and help others.”
Sometimes, bad things happen—natural and manmade disasters, personal failures, tough times. But Brunson is quick to point out a verse from Romans: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” For many people, Christian or not, North Carolinian or a member of a village half a world away, that good comes thanks to Richard Brunson and Baptists on Mission. When the yellow shirts start showing up, hurting people know help—both physical and spiritual—has arrived.
“You always wonder, are we going to be in the right place with the right things to serve people?” Brunson says. “Then we remember that God has opened a lot of doors. So, we’ll be faithful, we’ll be listening, and when the door opens, we’ll confidently walk through with the right people and the right tools. We’ll be God’s hands and feet—whether it’s a dental bus or disaster relief.”