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Gustav, Ike ravage Cuba; Baptists launch relief

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Southern Baptist disaster assessment team will enter Cuba the week of Sept. 15 to consult with local Baptist partners about relief efforts needed in the wake of two hurricanes striking the island nation.

Hurricane Ike struck Cuba Sept. 8, pushing along the length of the island before briefly moving offshore and turning back onto land southwest of Havana. Ike also raked the Bahamas and brought new flooding to Haiti, which was inundated by Hurricane Hanna the previous week. Hurricane Ike followed on the heels of another storm, Gustav, which roared over western Cuba Aug. 31 with winds gusting up to 200 miles an hour, according to news reports. An estimated 130,000 homes were damaged and crops were wiped out by Gustav.

Southern Baptist relief funds have been released, with the permission of the U.S. Treasury Department, to purchase food and rebuilding supplies, as well as to help with costs of cleanup, said Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization. Updates also are being received from Haiti and a disaster response plan for that country is being developed.

The assessment team will work with Cuban Baptist representatives to evaluate what additional relief efforts are needed and to conduct training for local disaster relief volunteers, Brown said.

The team’s visit will coincide with that of a Florida Baptist team, including two prominent Florida pastors, scheduled to arrive in Havana during the week of Sept. 15 for a planning and vision trip with church leaders in the Western Cuba Baptist Convention. The Florida Baptist Convention has had a decade-long partnership with Baptists in Cuba and Haiti and provides 51 percent of the Cuba convention’s operating budget.

While in Cuba, the Florida team will do its own damage assessment to determine where they can provide help.

(In Haiti, Florida Baptists have distributed rice for the past two weeks to the hardest hit areas of Haiti, where widespread hunger exists after four hurricanes hit in four weeks.)

In Cuba, a Baptist leader reported that even in the midst of Hurricane Ike, they saw God’s hand at work.

“Today I spoke to a pastor in Las Tunas [one of the towns hardest hit],” the leader wrote Sept. 8. “They have 50 people in the church building, and he told me something that marked my life.

“He said, ‘Something incredible has happened. The houses of the Christians have been protected,” the leader wrote. “Houses fell on one side and the other but those of the children of God are still standing.’ Glory to God!”

The pastor in Las Tunas was awakened at 3 a.m. by the sound of screams and a great noise, the convention leader said. When he saw that his next-door neighbors were losing their house, he ventured out into the 120 mph wind and brought them into the church building.

“In these difficult times we are trusting in God,” the Baptist leader said. “God is going to do something good.”

Southern Baptist workers familiar with the situation in Cuba asked Christians to focus their prayers on several points:

-– “Pray for families whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed, who are homeless, hungry and barely hanging onto hope.”

– “Pray for the churches that are working to provide, water and food and basic needs to storm survivors.”

-– “Pray that Cuban Christians will be able to share the love of Christ with people in need.”

-– “Pray that the assessment teams visiting the devastated areas will have wisdom in discerning how best to help.”

-– “Thank God for His faithfulness in good times and bad.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. With reporting by Barbara Denman, director of communications for the Florida Baptist State Convention. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly