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8.8-mag quake ‘without parallel’ in Chile’s history

CONCEPCION, Chile (BP)–Southern Baptists have released $50,000 for immediate relief needs in Chile, where the death toll has climbed past 700 in an earthquake disaster described by the country’s president as “without parallel in Chile’s history.”

A Southern Baptist assessment team is en route to the country for dialogue with ministry partners about needs and on-the-ground evaluation of the damage caused by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck in the pre-dawn hours Feb. 27.

“We are confronting an emergency without parallel in Chile’s history,” Chile President Michelle Bachelet told reporters Feb. 28. At least 700 people died in the quake and an estimated 500,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Some towns on Chile’s coastline were destroyed when a tsunami wave swept in after the quake.

More than 2 million people have been affected by the earthquake, Bachelet said. Rescue crews are searching for survivors in the rubble of toppled buildings.

Southern Baptist missionary personnel stationed in Chile began assessing the situation almost immediately after the quake, said Terry Lassiter, the International Mission Board’s strategist for the American Peoples affinity group.

“An initial assessment team made up of missionaries already in Chile has begun evaluating conditions and needs,” Lassiter said. “Other personnel are trying to find routes to return to the country. Pray that they will make it.”

The airport in Santiago was closed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake but has resumed some degree of service, according to news reports. Roads and bridges in the country, however, have been destroyed or badly damaged, which will complicate transportation of relief supplies and workers.

“It was a terrifying experience,” said Phil Brown, a Southern Baptist missionary who lives in Santiago. “We were awakened by our bed shaking so hard it almost threw us out. We live in a second floor apartment but ran to our outdoor terrace, ready to jump if the building started coming apart, which we feared it would.

“After the longest 90 seconds of my life, the shaking stopped. We got outside as quickly as we could to huddle in the street with the other people in our building,” Brown added. “God was gracious in protecting all of our missionary family here. Hours have passed now but we are still jumpy. Each tremor now gets our full attention.”

Baptist Global Response has dispatched a four-member assessment team to Chile that is expected to assemble March 2 and start compiling information to help them determine the short-term and long-term response needed from Southern Baptists, said Jim Brown, director of BGR’s U.S. office. The assessment effort is being led by Charles Clark, the International Mission Board’s cluster strategy leader for the area. Also serving on the team are representatives of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Network from Texas and South Carolina.

The $50,000 released from the Southern Baptist disaster relief fund will be used to help local Baptist churches meet crisis needs like food, water, blankets and shelter, Brown said. When donations are made to Southern Baptist disaster relief and world hunger funds, 100 percent of each donation goes to meet human needs. Nothing is withheld for administrative costs.

Southern Baptist personnel who were in the quake zone are struggling emotionally and physically, just like the Chileans around them, Lassiter said.

“Many of our people are physically and emotionally exhausted. Those who live in high-rise apartment buildings told me they didn’t think they were going to survive,” Lassiter said. “The 90 or so aftershocks that have occurred are continual reminders of the horror everyone felt during the event itself.”

Prayer partners should focus not only on people’s immediate physical needs but also on the emotional and spiritual dimensions of the crisis, Lassiter added.

“Please pray Philippians 4:7 for them, ‘And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,'” Lassiter said. “Pray that as they minister to those who have lost family members and physical property, that the only true hope of Jesus Christ will shine through. Pray that, even through the horrors an 8.8 earthquake, God will bring about a revival never yet seen in the country of Chile.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. To donate to Southern Baptist disaster relief, visit www.imb.org.

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  • Mark Kelly