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Baptists aid fire victims in St. Maarten shantytown

ST. MAARTEN, Netherlands Antilles (BP)–Baptists rushed aid to more than 100 families left homeless by fire in early May that swept through a shantytown area inhabited by Haitian immigrants in St. Maarten.
The fire, which local news reports said was the island’s worst ever, affected between 800 and 1,000 people, according to Tom Higginbotham, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionary who was involved with local Baptists in relief work.
Baptists provided the only relief for fire victims, Higginbotham said. Faith Baptist and the St. Maarten International Baptist churches collaborated in relief efforts, which included food and clothing distribution. The Foreign Mission Board gave money for food.
“It became apparent early the next day there would be no relief from the local government and we heard nothing to indicate any local businesses or individuals would be helping,” the missionary reported. The victims were Haitians, despised in many Caribbean nations.
The fire, reportedly caused by children playing with a cigarette lighter, raged through a shantytown area on this half-Dutch, half-French island east of Puerto Rico.
Faith Baptist Church housed 200 people made homeless by the fire. Pastor Frankel Leger put together a list of 70 families he personally knows who lost their dwellings.
International Baptist Church bought passage and provided lodging and food so James Ziler, a Foreign Mission Board missionary stationed in Haiti, could come help with the relief. He brought Bibles, Scripture portions and tracts in the French Creole language spoken by Haitians.
Higginbotham used about $2,000 in disaster relief funds from the Foreign Mission Board to buy food. Members of the two Baptist churches gave clothing.

During the effort 300 people viewed the “Jesus” film in the Creole language. Several dozen of them responded to the invitation, but the nature of their decisions was difficult to ascertain for a non-Creole speaker, Higginbotham said.
The last time Baptist relief was administered in a massive way on St. Maarten was in the fall of 1995 after the island was devastated by a hurricane. Relief efforts then gave Baptists a favorable image on the island.