ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Leaders of Southern Baptists’ response to the Haiti earthquake have formulated a coordinated plan for a long-term relief effort that focuses on working through an existing network of Haitian Baptist churches.
Representatives from the North American Mission Board, Florida Baptist Convention, International Mission Board, Baptist Global Response and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Network met at NAMB offices in Alpharetta, Ga., Feb. 11-12.
A coordinating group of representatives from the organizations and two Haitian Baptist conventions — the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’ Haiti (CMBH) and the Convention Baptiste d’Haïti (CBH) — will provide leadership for the Haiti response.
Fritz Wilson, the Florida Baptist Convention’s disaster relief director, was chosen to serve as the Haiti-based incident commander.
Wilson, who returned from an assessment trip to Haiti earlier in the week, recalled the sound of familiar hymns sung in Creole voices rising above the rubble as Haitian Christians gathered for worship one recent Sunday morning.
“Churches all across Port-au-Prince, Carrefour and other communities were meeting outside the walls of their buildings because they were either destroyed, damaged or the fears of the people prevented them from going inside their buildings,” Wilson said.
Many of the camps where displaced Haitians have set up temporary shelters are located near Haitian Baptist churches, he noted.
“Time and time again we noticed that where there was a cluster of people living in tents, God had left a church intact to minister to those people,” Wilson said. “We have a divine opportunity to come alongside Haitian Baptists in order to meet the needs of those affected by the earthquake. Our response has to be done through the Haitian church, there is no doubt.”
An incident command team of experienced Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers will work with Wilson in Haiti. The team will help identify ministry locations and resource them with volunteers. They also will work with leaders from the two Haitian conventions to coordinate volunteer housing, transportation, ministry sites, security and other in-country logistics.
Based on reports from the disaster relief efforts over the previous two weeks, leaders identified five priorities for urgent and intermediate response: food distribution, shelter, water purification, medical teams and chaplains.
The group wrestled with the challenges of placing volunteers on the field where housing and transportation are limited and security remains an issue.
Mickey Caison, NAMB’s team leader for adult volunteer mobilization, said the mission board’s Disaster Operations Center will open Feb. 15 to support the operation.
“We’ve already begun to send in medical and well-drilling teams,” Caison said. “Once we get the logistics in place and our incident command team is on the ground, we’ll be able to coordinate more teams for water purification as well as food distribution and teams to help with temporary shelter.”
The group affirmed Haitian pastors and church members who have been reaching out to earthquake survivors since day one with support from Southern Baptists.
“We have the opportunity to be the people of God during the midst of great hurting,” said Cecil Seagle, director of the Florida convention’s mission division. “In the midst of this event, there is a cross and a Christ. We want to lift up Jesus Christ and make Him known. We also want to undergird the church in Haiti so that it would transform the culture of that nation.
“There is a heart hunger to see lives changed.” Seagle continued. “We want volunteers to be intentionally responsible for conveying the Good News of Jesus in any way possible.”
The disaster relief leaders said volunteers need to be spiritually as well as physically prepared. Plans are being made to give disaster relief workers training specific to the Haiti response.
“God is doing something amazing among the churches in Haiti, and we are coming alongside them to strengthen them and help them share the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the country,” said Bruce Poss, NAMB’s disaster relief coordinator.
“We’ve got to tie the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the transformation of life to all that we do,” Wilson said.
Southern Baptists currently are being asked to fill “Buckets of Hope” to be sent to Haiti in the coming months. Churches and individuals can purchase and assemble five-gallon buckets for Haitian families packed with enough food to feed a family for a week. Even after Haitians use the supplies, the bucket can serve multiple uses for a family. Visit www.namb.net/bucketsofhope for a list of items to pack in the buckets.
Questions about pickup and delivery of buckets should be directed to state conventions. Monetary donations, designated for “Buckets of Hope” on the check, may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Haitian Baptist churches in Florida will use those donations to purchase buckets and fill them with food.
The disaster relief leaders continue to emphasize that helping Haitians rebuild their lives and communities will be a long-term effort.
Already, 77 volunteers have traveled to Haiti, including six medical teams. Volunteers have distributed 20 tons of rice, given medical treatment to 6,482 patients, assisted 100 pastors, made 2,475 ministry contacts and have seen 98 professions of faith.
“This is bigger than any of us,” Caison said. “We are just a small part of a much larger thing that God is doing in Haiti. Our efforts will undergird church planting, evangelism and leadership development in order to transform lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and ultimately transform Haiti.”
Carol Pipes is publications coordinator for the North American Mission Board. With reporting by James Dotson of NAMB’s communications staff.
Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org):
— The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online at www.NAMB.net; by phone, 1-866-407-6262; or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”
— Initial funding for the relief effort has come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.