CARACAS, Venezuela (BP)–Baptists have mobilized to help victims of massive flooding that devastated Venezuela’s Caribbean coast a week before Christmas. Missionaries in the country are calling on Southern Baptists to pray that the country’s worst natural disaster this century would turn hearts to Jesus Christ.
At least 10,000 people died and 200,000 people were left homeless when torrential rains lashed the South American country the week of Dec. 17. A wave of earth and rocks crashed down from rain-soaked, 8,000-foot-high mountains onto a 60-mile stretch of coast that was home to 350,000 people.
Entire towns were buried under yards of boulders and rubble. The government immediately launched a massive air-and-sea military rescue operation along the country’s entire northern coast.
Venezuelan Baptists quickly jumped into action as well, said Robert Harris*, a Southern Baptist missionary working in Caracas, the nation’s capital, which was hit hard by the storm.
“In every Baptist church throughout Venezuela, the members were encouraged to pray without ceasing, to give generously of material goods and financial aid and to volunteer time and energy for the effort,” Harris reported. “I know Southern Baptists will be praying for the thousands of people who have lost so much during this brief period of time.”
The Southern Baptist International Mission Board released $80,000 to help purchase food, water, medicines and mattresses that will be distributed by missionaries and Venezuelan Baptists through a network of Baptist churches located in the disaster area, said Dickie Nelson, an associate director of IMB work in the Caribbean basin.
In Caracas, the Baptist Center and Emanuel Baptist Church both are serving as collection centers for relief material. The Baptist Clinic there has been asked by the Evangelical Council of Venezuela to serve as the distribution point and coordinator for all medical care provided through churches to communities most affected by the disaster.
Churches in Maturin, some 300 miles east of Caracas, were preparing to receive 250 families evacuated from the disaster area. Venezuelan Baptists are working to get relief material collected in Caracas delivered to Baptist churches for distribution to victims.
A Southern Baptist assessment team was trying to get into the country to evaluate how Southern Baptists might help with long-term ministry evangelism projects. The Caracas airport was closed to commercial traffic and is being used to house people who lost their homes.
Once the team has assessed the needs, it will suggest ways Southern Baptist missionaries and volunteers can help Venezuelans recover from the disaster, Nelson said. Such projects might include portable feeding stations and reconstruction of homes and church buildings.
“This is a desperate moment for the Venezuelan people,” said Nelson, who himself has served as a missionary in the country. “We’re hoping Southern Baptists will be sensitive to this need. Here at Christmastime people’s lives have been devastated and they have lost many loved ones.”
“The evangelical community is responding by offering hope and life and peace that comes through faith in the one and only true God and his Son, Jesus Christ,” added Harris. “Let’s keep praying that in the midst of their losses, Venezuelans will find the One who makes life worthwhile, even in the face of suffering.”
Contributions toward the relief efforts in Venezuela can be sent to:International Mission Board, Hunger and Relief Fund — Venezuela Flood Relief, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
*Name changed for security reasons.