JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Prayers are being urged for the 18 Florida Baptist Convention employees in Haiti who have not been heard from after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the impoverished nation Jan. 12. Three of the 21 Haitians employed by the state convention have been found uninjured.
“They are like our family,” said Craig Culbreth, director of Florida’s Partnership Mission Department who has traveled to Haiti for the past 11 years. Florida Baptists have a 15-year partnership with Baptist in Haiti and have helped plant 890 churches during that time.
“They have been in our homes and we have been in theirs. We have laughed together and we have cried together, we have walked side-by-side and shared our vision for the nation of Haiti to come to Christ,” he said.
“They are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters and they are hurting right now. Many of them have small children. Some of their homes may be damaged and they are sleeping in the streets. It is a desperate situation there.”
Culbreth will lead an assessment team of Florida Baptist Convention staff members to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, this weekend to learn the condition of the convention-owned guest house and employees.
They will also begin preliminary plans in coordinating the delivery of disaster relief aid to the hurting nation, checking logistics and the availability of transportation of food and medical supplies into the damaged neighborhoods.
Joseph Gaston, director of the convention’s Language Haitian Church Development Department and a native of Port-Au-Prince, has not heard from his wife’s family since the devastating earthquake, but has learned that his own family survived. He will search for the wife’s sisters and brothers while in Haiti.
Culbreth said he will “have faith and be optimistic” that the convention staff is safe.
“Communication in Haiti is difficult in good times,” Culbreth said. “We have not been able to communicate by landlines for the past year. And we understand the cell phone towers have been damaged, making cell phone communication non-existent.”
Seven of the employees serve as mission leaders to start new churches throughout the nation and another 15 work in the convention-owned guest house. The guest house can sleep nearly 50 volunteers and provides food and safety for mission teams traveling into Haiti.
Wilbanks recalled that 65 employees and their children attended a Christmas Party hosted by the convention at the guest homes in December. “There were lots of little kids there,” he said.
“It is risky to live in Haiti when times are good,” said Wilbanks, noting that he often asked his Haitian co-workers why they remained in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. “They all reply that God has called them to Haiti.”
Culbreth said as he has watched the news reports originating in Port-Au-Prince, he was dismayed at the lack of vehicles on the roads. That signifies for him that there is no available gas or passable roads, which will negatively affect the relief effort.
“I am not concerned about getting to the Port Au Prince airport,” Culbreth said. “I am concerned about being transported into the neighborhoods where the hurting people are.”
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.