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Baptists swing into action after major Taiwan earthquake


TAIPEI, Taiwan (BP)–Baptists and other Christian groups began ministering to survivors almost immediately after Taiwan’s worst earthquake in generations rocked the island Sept. 21.
The quake, which measured between 7.6 and 7.9 on the Richter scale, killed more than 1,800 people, with the toll expected to rise and more than 3,000 people still missing or trapped in collapsed buildings. It injured thousands and left an estimated 100,000 people homeless.
Central Taiwan sustained heavy damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure, especially in the city of Taichung and in Nantou County — location of the quake’s epicenter about 90 miles south of Taipei, which also sustained damage.
Aid efforts by a Christian group called “Guardian Angel,” coordinated by Taipei Baptist pastor Yen Tsu Min, geared up in the hours after the quake, setting up a relief center near the site of a 12-story building that collapsed in Taipei.
“Their main focus has been to provide comfort and support to families of victims, have pure water on site for families and relief workers and visit the hospitals where victims were taken,” reported Southern Baptist missionary Hal Cunnyngham, crisis manager for International Mission Board personnel in Taiwan.
“At the hospitals they are ministering to families, taking them food, clothing and water, and providing a Christian presence. Twenty-five local Baptist seminary students are assisting with the hospital visits to minister to victims and their families.”
Missionary nurse Mary Dickey also went to the site of the hotel collapse in Taipei and began providing aid and comfort to people still trapped in the rubble. More than 36 hours after the quake, rescue workers were still trying frantically to get trapped survivors out of the building.
The IMB mission organization in Taiwan donated cash to help the Guardian Angels group buy relief supplies and may request additional Southern Baptist aid funds for other efforts. Other mission funds went to the Chinese Christian Relief Association of Taiwan, which is working to coordinate Christian relief efforts in the hardest-hit areas of Nantou County. Needs include food, blankets, tents and basic medical supplies.
Southern Baptists also are investigating delivery of large numbers of tents if missionaries are allowed into the most damaged areas. An IMB relief specialist planned to arrive Sept. 23 to assess the situation and seek access to the areas. The Taiwan government has restricted entry to the worst-hit region because of the danger of landslides and damage to roads and bridges.
The day after the quake, IMB missionaries in Taipei purchased additional medical supplies, bedding, food and water for transport to Puli Christian Hospital in Taichung, which is jammed with injured survivors. Medical facilities are “extremely stressed” in central Taiwan, Cunnyngham said, and water supplies are feared contaminated.
Contributions designated for Taiwan relief efforts may be sent to Southern
Baptist Hunger and Relief, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
U.S.-based Southern Baptist disaster relief specialists Bob Simpkins and Cameron Byler, who held disaster response training seminars in Taiwan just six months ago, are working with missionaries and Taiwan officials to deliver five water purification units to Taiwan. A seven-person Southern Baptist team planned to leave for the island Sept. 27 to train locals to use the equipment.
Bringing Simpkins and Byler to Taiwan for the disaster seminars was “the Lord’s guidance, we see clearly now,” said missionary Thad Puckett in Taipei. “[They did] training for Christian groups in how to respond to just this type of disaster. They also held mock earthquake drills with the very governmental agencies now having to coordinate the relief efforts. God is amazing in providing for the needs of this island.”
All of the 70-plus Southern Baptist missionaries and their families in Taiwan were confirmed to be safe. Several families who live in high-rise apartments in the quake zone were badly shaken, however, and planned to stay with other families for a few days.
“We’re OK,” Puckett said. He described the earthquake as “a big ride — big, strong, long and loud. It went on and on. [It was] difficult to walk at first. Two very big aftershocks came within 20 minutes, which let us know this one wasn’t like the other earthquakes we had been through here in Taiwan. There have been 1,000 aftershocks since then, with about 10 over 5.0 on Richter scale.
“Pray especially for the people of Taiwan. There is a very somber mood here today — almost palpable. People are numbed by the experience of last night and by the carnage they have seen in person or on the television. Pray for the 97 percent of the people of Taiwan that don’t know Christ as their Savior. And especially pray for believers here to be ‘doers of the word’ during these difficult days.”
Some Southern Baptist mission properties in Taiwan sustained relatively minor damage, according to initial reports. A thorough evaluation of mission-owned buildings will take place later.
Officials warned of the likelihood of another major earthquake within seven days. A temblor measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit Nantou County again Sept. 22, delaying efforts to free trapped survivors.

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  • Erich Bridges