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Baptist disaster relief reaches toward the nations

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — The shantytowns of Cape Town, South Africa, could be among the initial disaster relief deployments for the Baptist Union of Southern Africa.

In a partnership with the Kentucky Baptist Convention facilitated by the Baptist Global Response humanitarian organization, the Baptist union’s disaster relief ministry is in the early stages of development, according to reports by the KBC Kentucky Today news site and KBC Western Recorder newsjournal.

South Africa is among several countries where Baptist state convention disaster relief leaders have conducted training of local Baptists for responding to disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Paul Chitwood, the Kentucky convention’s executive director, noted, “As with KBC Disaster Relief, the disaster relief ministry built by our brothers and sisters in South Africa will help them show the love of Christ and also be a great platform for them to share the Gospel.”

Chitwood and KBC disaster relief director Coy Webb, along with BGR field strategist Jeff O’Loughlin, met with Baptist union leaders in Cape Town Feb. 28-March 4 regarding principles and issues for a ministry to deliver humanitarian and spiritual aid. They also visited recent disaster sites in the region and Webb provided training for several key leaders.

“The potential impact of this new ministry to open doors in the country for the Gospel is immense,” Webb said.

In the shantytowns, for example, Webb said the makeshift houses situated tightly together in impoverished settlements are major fire hazards, while many other poor neighborhoods are at risk for flooding.

Webb encouraged Baptist union leaders to initially focus on preparations for fire and flood scenarios and trauma care.

“It would be far better to find gap areas right now in current disaster responses … and maybe begin with two or three ministries and allow the ministry to grow as more resources become available,” Webb said, “rather than trying to do too much initially and becoming overwhelmed or perhaps not having adequate volunteers or resources to do things in an effective manner.”

Webb said the Baptist Union plans to start by responding to no more than three regional disasters, which commonly include village fires, floods and droughts.

“I was impressed by the leadership and the gifted partners that God joined together” for the Baptist union’s DR ministry, Webb said.

The KBC and Baptist union are still working out details for their partnership. However, Chitwood said, it likely will involve disaster response workshops, for which the KBC will provide trainers and resource materials, and Webb said the KBC might send a team to work alongside the Baptist union during a disaster.

“Our volunteers are very well organized, well-trained and have a lot of experience with this,” Chitwood said.

The Baptist Union of Southern Africa has grown to several hundred churches since its founding in 1877 by several English-speaking churches and a German-speaking church. The union has the will and resources “necessary for an effective disaster response organization,” O’Loughlin said in an email. “They just needed to know how to put it all together.”

While in the region, Webb joined representatives of other Southern Baptist organizations in surveying drought conditions in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

“We saw massive crop failures in the mountain villages that will likely lead to 1.5 million people suffering from severe hunger,” Webb said.

More Baptist initiatives

Various state conventions have provided disaster relief training to overseas Baptists, including a South Africa outreach in 2000 by North Carolina Baptist Men, who also provided DR training in Hungary in 2005 and 2007.

Among their reports:

— Florida Baptists were providing disaster relief training for Haitian leaders even before the 2010 earthquake devastated the nation. For the island nation that experiences hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding every two to three years, disaster relief preparation became on-the-job training. Ministry directors employed by the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti were trained in logistics and assessment after a hurricane struck in 2005, said Craig Culbreth, the Florida Baptist Convention’s mission and ministry group catalyst. The leaders organized distribution of beans and rice to hungry families in flooded villages and began storing food in regions to facilitate, which became necessary after a hurricane struck again in 2007.

When the 2010 earthquake hit, Haitian Baptist leaders were able assess and communicate urgent needs to Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, lessening the response time. In the weeks and months following the earthquake, the training was expanded to include pastors and church leaders regionally who were prepared in assessment, spiritual care and logistics. These Haitian Baptist leaders became the backbone of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts in the aftermath of quake, learning how to construct homes, meet spiritual needs and provide transportation of supplies, volunteers and equipment. Since 2010, three DR training sessions have been held.

— Oklahoma Baptists have included disaster relief training as part of a partnership with the Baptist convention in Mexico’s Guerrero state. “They have taken the principles we taught them, and they respond to flooding and hurricanes,” said Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

“Plus they have developed a very good medical response team for when disasters hit along the Pacific Coast in that part of Mexico,” Porter said in an email to Baptist Press. And when there are no disasters, they do monthly medical crusades for new church plants’ communities “and treat an average of 400 people each week and see 100-150 accept Jesus Christ,” Porter said.

The Oklahoma Baptist Messenger newsjournal, in 2008, recounted visa problems that Porter and other volunteers had to overcome to relay training to Myanmar (Burma) Baptist leaders after Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 10,000 people in a heavily Baptist region surrounding the capital of the south Asian country.

Denied entry into Myanmar, the DR team conducted training in Thailand, providing a nine-page manual and a 90-minute session for a Burmese congregation in Bangkok and seven individuals from Myanmar. The manual covered such topics as sanitation, water and food distribution, housing and shelter, medical needs, and emotional and spiritual caregiving.

“Our hope is that the Myanmar church will be much stronger by the time this relief effort ends,” Porter said at the time. “This is a tremendous opportunity to see the Kingdom of God expand in this nation.”

— Alabama Baptists provided disaster relief training in Guatemala in 2010 as part of the state convention’s partnership with Baptists in the Central American country. Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist and state missionary for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, recounted in an email, “Baptist leadership from across Guatemala traveled to Guatemala City for intensive planning and training to develop a disaster relief ministry based on the Cooperative Program model and spirit of the Southern Baptist disaster relief organization.”

In Puerto Rico in 2014, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief responded to a request from the island’s Baptists to train and develop a DR response ministry through local churches. “Alabama trainers provided hands-on training for chainsaw, cleanup recovery and mud-out ministry,” Johnson said. “Alabama Baptists donated disaster relief response equipment and trained locals in how to service and maintain the equipment.”

“Local, national and international disaster relief efforts,” Johnson noted, “reflect a deep commitment to Great Commission ministries and remain true to an Acts 1:8 model for missions.”

Richard Brunson, executive director of North Carolina Baptist Men, said international disaster relief training initiatives “have provided opportunities for us to not only minister and serve in the areas where we have provided training, but they have also opened the door for [other facets] of our existing ministry partnerships.”

    About the Author

  • Kentucky Today, Western Recorder & Baptist Press Staff

    Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston from reports by Kentucky Today (www.kentuckytoday.com) and the Western Recorder (www.westernrecorder.org) of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Also contributing to this report were Barbara Denman of the Florida Baptist Convention, Chad Austin of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Bob Nigh of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Baptist Messenger newsjournal and Keith Hinson of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

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