PARAMARIBO, Suriname (BP)–While America was riveted by the drama of disaster relief workers helping Midwesterners driven from their homes by rain-swollen rivers, another group of people have been devastated by flooding — unnoticed by the world and without the benefit of a sophisticated social network for relief operations.
But Southern Baptist workers among the Aukaners of Suriname –- using resources provided through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund –- have stepped up to help in villages along the South American country’s Tapanahoni River.
An estimated 2,000 families were forced from their homes deep in the rain forest of Suriname in early June, according to Charles Shirey, who lives among the Aukaners with his wife, Brittany, and their three children. The floodwaters claimed the lives of two Aukaner children when dugout canoes in which their families were fleeing overturned in river rapids.
Shirey organized a relief effort that provided food and water to the displaced families. Food packets containing 22 pounds of rice, as well as oil, sardines, beans, soup mix, flour, tea and drinking water were distributed to tide the families over until the flood waters receded and they were able to put their lives back together. The packets cost a little more than $40 per family. As many as 1,500 families are expected to receive assistance.
The distribution was made through a network of relationships Shirey has developed during years of work in Suriname. For example, a medical clinic in Gakaba agreed to identify all the families in the area that had been displaced by flooding and 179 food packets were delivered there, Shirey said. A radio broadcast then was made to inform people in the area that food would be dropped off that evening to them.
“The whole process went very smoothly,” Shirey said. “I explained to the clinic workers how believers in the States helped with money to get this food to them because of the love of Jesus. We prayed for them and their village.”
A follow-up system has been put into place to continue ministering to the affected families, Shirey added. “Our prayer is that this effort will not only provide food and water but will help to develop a meaningful response that will bring glory to our Lord among this people group.”
Aukaners are descendants of African slaves brought by the Dutch to Suriname in the 17th and 18th centuries, Shirey said. Some of them escaped from the plantations into the country’s interior, where they lived in relative isolation for more than 250 years.
The families who received assistance heard about how to have a full and meaningful life of hope and peace, Shirey noted. “They had the opportunity to see the love of Christ in action and understand that this aid was coming to them because Southern Baptists care about people in need.”
Undesignated donations to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, made through a local Southern Baptist church or association, a state convention or the SBC Executive Committee (www.sbc.net), are distributed 80 percent to international and 20 percent to domestic hunger relief projects.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.