TALCA, Chile (BP)–Mercedes Iturra has something she didn’t have before Chile’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake — a newfound love of Scripture.
A group of Chilean Baptist volunteers arrived March 10 in Pangue Abajo, a rural community where Iturra lives in a makeshift tent outside her collapsing home. Her children’s families — including 14 grandchildren — are living with her.
When the volunteers visited the family, they brought balloons and coloring books for the children and Gospel tracts for the adults.
“One of the volunteers marked places in my Bible for me to read,” Iturra said through a translator. “We had those handy, so when the next aftershocks came, we pulled them out and started reading from the Bible.”
Since Iturra herself cannot read, her 14-year-old granddaughter read the marked passage in Romans to her: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“A lot of people are scared, so a lot of people are paying more attention to God,” said one of Iturra’s daughters.
Though Iturra and her family are still searching spiritually, the help they have received from Baptist efforts in the wake of the disaster has given them hope in God’s Word. The volunteers who shared their faith with Iturra and her family came from a combined Chilean Baptist and Southern Baptist relief effort.
A field kitchen set up in the parking lot of Iglesia Evangelica Bautista El Sembrador (Evangelical Baptist Church of the Sower) in Talca is the headquarters for this project. The kitchen equipment and food are provided through Baptist Global Response (BGR), a Southern Baptist partner that has been coordinating two-person volunteer teams from churches in the U.S. who work with Chilean volunteers for a week at a time. These teams help maintain the kitchen, plan meals and buy supplies.
When Steve Wise and George Kay, the first volunteer team, arrived at El Sembrador church, there was no kitchen staff lined up and no one who spoke English. Using only hand gestures, the South Carolinians struggled to set up the kitchen. But with the help of International Mission Board missionaries, they soon had staff and translators. And in its first couple of days of operation, their field kitchen produced meals for 750 Chileans each day.
“The Chileans are sweet, hard-working people,” said Wise, a member of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg. “They jump right in and work till the job is done. They’re like professionals.”
The lead cook, Maria Teresa Cerda, helped organize the volunteers from various Baptist churches around Talca.
“It’s a good experience working with the North Americans,” Cerda said. “They are available no matter the time of day or what needs to be done. They aren’t picky.”
Cerda and her husband were Chilean missionaries in Ecuador for 11 years. During that time, Cerda raised money for Ecuadorian churches by cooking and selling empanadas — a popular Latin American pastry. Now she is using her cooking skills in service to victims of the earthquake.
“I’m motivated to serve — to give back in part what God has given,” Cerda said. “We’ve seen a lot of people suffering. The people really need it and it’s been very well-received. They are very thankful.”
Since arriving, Wise and Kay have found the best places to buy ingredients and have developed a rapport with the Chilean volunteers. Because canned items are not available in bulk, the kitchen workers have to peel, chop and prepare all the ingredients — a process that adds preparation time to each meal.
Under a canvas canopy, Chilean volunteers chop vegetables and tend to steaming pots on gas stoves.
“It’s labor-intensive,” Wise said. “You have to bring a whole crew in, but they’re having a great time.”
As their time with the Chileans was winding down, Wise and Kay were preparing for the kitchen to operate independently until the next U.S. team arrives. During that time, the kitchen will begin producing 1,500 meals a day, more than doubling its present production. But Wise and Kay are confident the Chilean volunteers can manage the increase on their own.
“Yesterday I was standing to the side looking for problems. I couldn’t find any,” Wise said. “Once we teach them our system … they know what to do.”
“This is just their culture. They know how to cook,” said Kay, a member of Barkers Creek Baptist Church in Honea Path, S.C. “All these folks have such a servant’s attitude and kind heart.”
Once the food is prepared, it is stored in coolers until distribution. Each cooler holds 100 servings. Chilean Baptists with the Union Nacional de Jovenes Bautistas (National Union of Young Baptists) are helping with distribution.
“When I heard [the earthquake] was a national catastrophe, I felt the personal desire to volunteer,” said Manuel Castro Garrido, an electrical engineering student from Temuco, Chile. “I want to be able to show the love of Christ in an integral way.”
Some of the young volunteers deliver meals to those unable to cook in their present situations or too busy with home repairs to take time to cook. In either case, the meals are a blessing.
Other young volunteers drive truckloads of meals to public areas in surrounding communities. Once set up for distribution, they honk the horn signaling for local families to receive the food. Sometimes volunteers organize games for the children or a pastor gives a Gospel message. Always, the volunteers build relationships and lead the people in prayer.
“Our help has not only been physical, but spiritual,” Garrido said.
Southern Baptist volunteers will help with this and other field kitchens until the end of April, when the food distribution will transition to the Chilean volunteers.
“We want to do all we can to facilitate a smooth transition back to independence for the families,” Wise said.
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas. Donations to Southern Baptist Chilean relief may be made at http://www.imb.org (click on the Chile quake response graphic). Updated prayer requests can be viewed at imb.org/pray. Information also will be updated through Twitter at #QuakeResponse.