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Hurricane Matthew: Cuba is BGR’s focus

BARACOA, Cuba (BP) — Though media reports of Hurricane Matthew’s devastation in the Caribbean have tended to spotlight Haiti, the Southern Baptist humanitarian organization Baptist Global Response plans to focus its relief efforts on Cuba, where the damage reportedly is “massive” and humanitarian aid more sparse.

Eastern Cuba seems to have “received a lot more infrastructure damage” than Haiti, BGR executive director Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press. “They were hit a little bit harder…. We don’t know exactly how much loss of life has happened. We have had reports from on-ground partners in Cuba that the damage is massive.”

Matthew made landfall in Haiti and Cuba Oct. 4 as a Category 4 hurricane. At least 478 people have been reported dead in Haiti, according to Reuters. The Miami Herald said no deaths had been reported in Cuba as of Oct. 6, but Palmer said “our expectations with a storm of this magnitude is that there [will] be” fatalities.

In Haiti, BGR “will be doing small projects with local personnel,” Patrick Melancon, BGR’s director of disaster response and training, stated in an Oct. 7 email. Meanwhile, the Florida Baptist Convention in partnership with the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste de Haiti has already supplied rice and water for the hardest-hit areas of the country. The Florida and Haitian conventions have had a partnership for the past two decades.

“Nonresidential organizations attempting to go into Haiti at this point will find themselves very frustrated,” Melancon said, “because of the number of NGOs that are already working. There will be a competition for resources on local markets and even a competition for ramp space of the airport.”

The United Nations’ Relief Web website noted Oct. 7 that 221 reports and appeals for funding had been issued for Haiti in Matthew’s wake. In contrast, only 20 reports and appeals had been issued for Cuba.

That’s among the reasons BGR will concentrate its efforts on Cuba in conjunction with the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba and local churches, Melancon said.

BGR will conduct “on-ground surveys in the next few days to help us understand a clearer picture of what really is going on” in Cuba, Palmer said.

Among Matthew’s effects in Cuba reported by the Herald were houses “reduced to tinder,” severe power grid disruptions, impassable roads and damage of some 448,000 banana plants and 8 million tomato seedlings. Approximately 80 percent of houses in the city of Baracoa sustained roof damage.

BGR’s response, according to Melancon’s email, will aim to provide potable water, food, shelter and medical assistance. Palmer said local Baptist partners will take the lead in sharing the Gospel in conjunction with relief work.

Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said he has been in contact with BGR as well as stateside Southern Baptist Disaster Relief officials. He urged believers to pray for those affected and donate money to the relief effort.

“Like many of you, my initial reaction is to rush in to offer a helping hand in the face of such widespread devastation,” Page told BP in written comments. “Let’s trust those who have feet on the ground to give us guidance. They have told me the greatest need right now is for funding that will enable BGR and stateside DR to address the situation through ministry partners already on the ground.

“Volunteers will be needed; but for now, the most effective way to address the situation is through locally trained people who know the language, culture and location of resources. Consider giving the funds you would have used for travel for BGR and/or DR to use on your behalf,” Page said.

He requested prayer for Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and America’s eastern seaboard, calling specifically for intercession:

— “That our God will overshadow His people living in these areas with divine protection, freeing them to step forward offering assistance to their hurting neighbors in the Name of Jesus, rendering not only humanitarian aid, but the hope we have in Jesus Christ”;

— “That the Lord will lead thousands to give generously to help those whose lives are turned upside down by this massive storm”; and

— “That we will not be distracted from praying boldly that the Lord’s Name be glorified as He shows Himself strong in multiple ways in these storm-affected areas.”

Donations for hurricane relief in the Caribbean can be made through BGR at goBGR.org. Donations for hurricane relief in the U.S., where Matthew is expected to cause damage through the weekend, can be made through the affected state conventions and the North American Mission Board at NAMB.net.