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Update: Baptists Prep for Immediate, Long-term Responses to Haiti Quake


January 13, 2010 | bpfna

by Bob Allen and Robert Marus
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) -- Baptist groups in the United States began gearing up Jan. 13 for both immediate and long-term responses to the earthquake that killed thousands in Port-au-Prince, the capital and largest city of the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, the evening before.

Baptist World Aid has pledged $20,000 in emergency funds for Haiti, the head of the relief-and-development arm of the Virginia-based Baptist World Alliance said Jan. 13. Meanwhile, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the American Baptist Churches USA, the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention are all gearing up for relief and development work in the aftermath of what may turn out to be one of the Western Hemisphere's deadliest natural disasters.

Both United Nations and Hatian officials reportedly estimated Jan. 13 that the quake -- which initial estimates put at 7.0 in magnitude -- likely had killed thousands of Haitians. It was reportedly the strongest in the Caribbean in two centuries.

BWAid director Paul Montacute said grants of $10,000 each were committed to the Baptist Convention of Haiti, a group of 110 churches and 82,000 members established in 1964, and the Haiti Baptist Mission, a network of 330 churches and schools founded in 1943.

Montacute said BWAid will be launching an appeal for additional funds. A link on the BWA website directs online donations toward disaster relief.

"We must make a generous response to this massive catastrophe," Montacute said.

Montacute said Baptist relief agencies from North America and around the world are considering how best to help. He said two representatives of BWAid's Rescue 24 team of first responders were en route to Haiti from Hungary, where they planned to link up with North Carolina Baptist Men.

BPFNA members Nancy and Steve James, field personnel jointly appointed to Haiti by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and American Baptist Churches USA, were in the United States when the temblor hit. American Baptist International Ministries said the couple were driving from a conference in North Carolina to Florida and planned to catch a Missionary Flights International flight into Haiti on Jan. 14.

The missionaries live about 100 miles from the quake's epicenter, which was just a few miles from the center of Port-au-Prince. A friend watching their house said there did not appear to by any major damage nearby.

That's a far different scene from the teeming capital, where multiple news reports indicated countless major buildings were destroyed. They include poignant symbols for Hatians such as the National Palace -- seat of the Haitian presidency -- the Haitian Parliament buildings and the city's Roman Catholic cathedral. The Vatican newspaper announced Jan. 13 that among those killed in the quake was Joseph Serge Miot, archbishop of Port-au-Prince.

The Red Cross estimated that 3 million people were affected by the earthquake, roughly one in three Haitians. The Caribbean nation has been afflicted by extreme poverty and political instability for decades, and poor infrastructure and virtually non-existent building standards likely worsened the disaster's impact.

Just over a year ago, Haiti was battered by a series of four destructive hurricanes in three weeks.

Lance Wallace, director of communications for the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said that group's response to the earthquake would be long-term recovery and not search and rescue. He said volunteers looking to serve through CBF will receive assignments after the initial emergency phase has passed. Wallace said the quickest way to help is to give money designated Haiti relief.

Haitian-American Baptists were among the hundreds of thousands of Americans with Haitian ties suffering along with the poverty-stricken country.

"There's so little left, I see the name on TV, but it doesn't look like anything that was before," said Nadia Dubuche, a native Haitian who lives in Silver Spring, Md., according to the Washington Post. She said she was up the entire night before, along with other American relatives, trying to reach family members still in Haiti. "We couldn't get through. There was no contact, no electricity."

Dubuche is a member of Eglise Baptiste du Calvaire (Calvary Baptist Church) in Adelphi, Md., one of the largest Haitian congregations in the Washington area. Its pastors did not return calls for comment by press time for this story Jan. 13, but Dubuche said the church had just shipped a truckload of supplies to Haiti and members had been planning a mission trip to the nation to help give out the supplies.

"We had prepared food and clothes for people after a recent hurricane and after a school collapsed. We even sent the truck with the supplies already. We were just preparing to go and help distribute."

U.S. Baptist churches with other connections to Haiti also planned projects. Members of Columbia Baptist Church in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Va., just voted in November to enter into a hunger-reduction project as partners with the international Christian aid agency World Vision.

Greg Loewer, the church's pastor for missions, said the congregation's "hearts ache" for Haiti's beleaguered people.

"We pray for relief of their suffering, and we pledge to act. We will give sacrificially to provide assistance, in the name of Christ, to Haiti in this critical time and beyond," he said.

"Obviously, the relief, rebuilding, and restoration will need to continue well beyond this initial outpouring of sympathy," Loewer continued. "Haiti's long-term problems are certainly exacerbated by this catastrophic earthquake (and the hurricanes of recent years). Gratefully, our loving Lord hears our prayers and provides mercy and grace to help in such a time of dire need. And his people, in the love and compassion of his Holy Spirit, will reach out with real help in Jesus' name."

Leaders of the North American Baptist Fellowship -- composed of all of the North American bodies that are members of the Baptist World Alliance -- planned an emergency teleconference Jan. 14 to coordinate relief efforts.

Bob Allen is senior writer for, and Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief of, Associated Baptist Press.

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