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Dean’s Yucatan fury stirs prayer in Mexico

COSTA MAYA, Mexico (BP)–Opportunities to share Christ are emerging in the hours after Hurricane Dean became the strongest Atlantic storm to make landfall in two decades, hitting the cruise ship port of Costa Maya, Mexico, as a Category 5 hurricane Aug. 21.

“I was in a meeting with the National Emergency Committee this afternoon and I was able to openly share hope in Jesus,” Mauricio Menesses, a volunteer coordinator who lives on the Yucatan Peninsula, wrote in an e-mail to the Georgia Baptist Convention’s mission volunteers department as the storm set in.

“They even asked me to say a prayer at the end of the meeting. God is already doing great things,” Menesses wrote.

A few hours later, Menesses sent another e-mail, saying the worst of the hurricane had passed and “Cancun is on its feet.”

“Even though last night was rough with winds up to 95 miles per hour and a lot of water, there wasn’t much damage done,” he wrote. “I am calling some of our pastors right now to check on them and in a few hours I will be going out to help the National Emergency Committee to distribute food and other things to cover primary needs.”

The Georgia Baptist Convention has a missions partnership with the Yucatan Peninsula, and as of Tuesday morning, Menesses was the only contact the state convention’s mission volunteers office had heard from in the region.

After killing at least 12 people in the Caribbean, Hurricane Dean hit Mexico along a sparsely populated coastline that had already been evacuated, the Associated Press reported, sparing the major tourist resorts. Once on the peninsula, the storm weakened to a Category 2 hurricane but was expected to gain strength before hitting the central Mexican coast.

Hurricane Dean is the first Category 5 to make landfall in the Atlantic region since Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, AP noted.

Frank Drinkard, an administrative associate with the International Mission Board’s Middle America and Caribbean region, mentioned one Southern Baptist missionary living in Merida on the west side of the Yucatan Peninsula. By Tuesday morning Drinkard had not heard from the missionary but expected to make contact later in the day.

“He had already been working with other national Baptist entities to kind of be prepared for it and basically get ready to ride it out and then once the storm had passed — which I assume it’s still being impacted right now somewhat by the rain and the wind — they would get out and assess, and we’ll make some determinations at that point as to what we’re going to do,” Drinkard told Baptist Press.

Before hitting Mexico, Hurricane Dean swept through Jamaica as a Category 4 storm. Trinity Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., is among the Southern Baptist churches with ties to that nation through mission work.

“We’ve taken teams to the north coast of Jamaica for the last eight years,” Brian Wright, missions minister at Trinity Baptist, told BP. “I actually did talk with one of our Jamaican friends yesterday, and the area that we work in did not sustain significant damage. He said all the people are fine and there’s not a tremendous amount of damage. So I was glad to hear that.”

Volunteers from the church have helped build several structures in Jamaica over the years, Wright said, including homes and a community center.

“He did not get into specifics other than to say there was not widespread damage. So I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming the ones we built are OK,” Wright said of the structures.

The Jamaican people for the most part are receptive to the Gospel message, Wright said, and the relationships church members have built with residents there have afforded opportunities to talk about God.

“There’s a lot of Christian work there and there has been for some time. There’s kind of a mixture of religions there,” he said, referring to Rastafarianism and Christianity.

Members of Trinity Baptist who have gone on mission trips to Jamaica were concerned about the people they met when news of the impending hurricane broke.

“Those of us who have been [to Jamaica] have been communicating with each other and making sure that we’re praying for them and found out that they were OK,” Wright said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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