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Fla. Baptist churches rally for Haiti relief

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Churches across Florida rallied to the aid of Haitians after an earthquake came close to leveling the capital city of Port-au-Prince last week. Special offerings Jan. 17 provided an avenue for Florida Baptists to participate in caring for Haiti’s impoverished residents.

“Empty your wallets,” pastor Tim Passmore encouraged members of Woodland Community Church in Bradenton, Fla. The congregation of 1,600 collected more than $8,000 in three morning worship services, Passmore reported.

“The situation in Haiti has been heavy on all our hearts, and people gave,” he said.

Passmore told of sharing a fast food lunch with his daughter during which they talked about eating a meal while Haitians were trapped beneath rubble of buildings. He said he told his church that people in Haiti “were crying out for help” while they worshipped in comfort.

The emergency offering would be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, Passmore said, where every penny will go to the needy in Haiti, because “we have staff already there.”

In Miami Baptist Association, which counts nearly 100 Haitian congregations among its 300 churches, money offerings were paired with collections of food, water, medical supplies and tents.

Six churches in Miami have been designated as drop-off sites for goods to be transported to Haiti: Bethel Evangelical Baptist, Memorial Highway Baptist, Stanton Memorial Baptist, Christ Fellowship, Miami Baptist, and Emmanuel Haitian Baptist.

“The desire to help is fantastic, however the way is still difficult. Pray that the bottleneck will soon open and supplies will arrive to those in need,” said Scott Nelson, director of Haitian ministries for the Miami association.

Jacques Joseph, associate pastor of Emmanuel Haitian Baptist, said his Miami congregation is “filling the house” with goods to go to their homeland. Several families in the church lost family members in the earthquake, and they are consoling each other, he said.

Joseph lost his brother Paul, who died in his house in Port-au-Prince. He received a call from his sister on Thursday after his brother died Tuesday. The associate pastor was comforted, he said, because his family “is all Christian.”

Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville has a 13-year history of partnership with El Shaddai Orphanage five miles west of Port-au-Prince. Scores of church members travel to Haiti every year for mission efforts in the Bessource area.

Church member Christi Burnett, a member of the church nurses’ fellowship, had been delivering supplies to the orphanage when the earthquake occurred. She, along with all residents and staff of the orphanage were spared injury. Burnett returned to Jacksonville in time to attend the morning worship services Jan. 17 and thank the congregation for its prayers.

Craig Culbreth, director of the Florida Baptist Convention Partnership Missions Department and a long-time member of Fruit Cove Baptist, is part of an assessment team headed to Port-au-Prince via cargo plane. Fruit Cove pastor Tim Maynard, after hearing reports from Burnett and Culbreth, led the congregation in prayer for Haiti residents, and then asked church members to contribute to relief efforts. All money given, he told the congregation, would go directly “from the warmth of your wallet to the streets of Haiti.”

“The response was overwhelming,” Maynard said. “After the emotion of the week, I think people were sitting out there waiting to do something.”

After two morning services, offerings — “a big bunch of small bills” — totaled $40,780. Maynard said Culbreth intended to first purchase fuel to move 50-gallon gas tanks at the mission compound in Port-au-Prince to the El Shaddai Orphanage and fill them with fuel; then buy beans and rice; and finally pay for security for the Baptist team.

“We know that Florida Baptist Convention offerings for Haiti go to those who need help. There is nothing used for administration or overhead, nothing to support future fund raising,” Maynard said. “But I think it made a difference to point to Craig and say, ‘Our offering is going with him.'”

At First Baptist Church in Orlando, a benefit concert with Christian comedian Tim Hawkins was sponsored by New Missions, a Christian ministry which had a team of 44 individuals, including nearly 30 workers from three Central Florida Baptist churches, in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Those workers, from First Baptist Church in Oviedo, First Baptist Church in Winter Garden and First Baptist Church in Orlando, included 17 teenagers.

According to a news release, the concert was pre-planned as part of a series called “Laugh All Night,” but organizers decided to host the benefit in light of the desperate need in Haiti.

Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said he was waiting on instructions and would leave for Haiti as soon as John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, told him it was time to go.

Meanwhile, Brunson urged the congregation Jan. 17 to give generously to Florida Baptist Convention disaster relief through a special offering. Gina Ford, executive director of communications, said the offering totaled $16,834.
Carolyn Nichols is a newswriter for the Florida Baptist Witness (www.gofbw.com). With reporting by Joni B. Hannigan.

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 Florida Baptist Convention has established a Haiti earthquake relief fund, available online at www.flbaptist.org. Donations also may be sent to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Designate on check “Haitian Earthquake relief.” For more information, call 800-226-8584, ext. 3135; or 904-596-3135.

— 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, 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 will 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.

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  • Carolyn Nichols