ESCUINTLA CITY, Guatemala (BP) — A Southern Baptist youth mission team already in Guatemala when a volcano erupted there June 3 is safe and helping churches house and feed survivors.
The 10-member team from Bear Cove Baptist Church in Sparta, Tenn., had arrived in Escuintla City June 1 to help Baptist churches there evangelize urban youth, church youth minister Justin Wesson told Baptist Press June 4.
Escuintla City and surrounding areas are under high alert. Escuintla is less than 10 miles south of the Volcán de Fuego, which translates “volcano of fire.” Sunday’s eruption, the second since February, killed at least 69 people, injured at least 50 and displaced thousands, according to news reports. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue efforts continue.
Southern Baptist partner Baptist Global Response (BGR) is responding to survivors, feeding 500 people a day in the evacuation area, BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told BP today (June 5). A Guatemalan Baptist church partnering with BGR was housing 50 people the morning after the eruption. BGR provided an initial $5,000 for supplies June 4 while assessing needs, but predicts housing and feeding outreaches will extend up to three weeks.
“BGR area directors for the Americas and local partners are in the general area of the eruption,” Palmer said. “BGR has released funds to help the displaced families now housed in local Baptist churches. We also are working with local Baptist pastors and churches to help provide shelter, food and support for those affected.”
A government school a short walk from the church is being used as an official morgue for recovered bodies and remains, Palmer said.
“There are about 150 family members sheltering there waiting and hoping for word about their loved ones. Some of them are being called in to possibly identify remains,” he said. “It is hard since some are burned so badly. We are able to help with the feeding of these grieving families and give some basic grief counseling at this time.”
El Rodeo, a community of about 5,000 people, is believed flattened by the eruption that Guatemalan authorities said is affecting 1.7 million people. A national high-level alert was issued for Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Sacatepequez provinces, but the eruption has subsided.
The Bear Cove missions team of youth and adult chaperones was safe in their hotel room when the eruption occurred, Wesson said.
“Our main concern right now is checking with the team and making sure they’re safe, which they are,” Wesson said a day after the eruption. “They have informed us that the churches they’ve partnered with have opened up their doors to provide relief to those in need that have been displaced.
“Their focus has been changed a little to help provide relief,” Wesson said, “but they’re still also ministering to the students and youth in the area.” The team plans to return to Tennessee June 7.
“We’re OK,” a member of the Bear Cove team posted on Facebook after the eruption. “God’s got this.”
Palmer described the Guatemalan church where the team is serving as a trusted BGR partner.
“The BGR staff members and the volunteer team were working with the local pastor in another project when the volcano erupted,” Palmer said. “Pray for BGR partners and area directors and for the volunteer team members as they respond to this localized disaster.
“Ask God to give them wisdom and understanding regarding how best to help those displaced and how to coordinate with Guatemalan government officials in relief efforts,” Palmer said. “Pray for the community of El Rodeo and the search and rescue operations currently underway.”
The 12,300-foot-tall Fuego is located about 30 miles southwest of Guatemala City.
The NASA Earth Observatory described its eruption: “A deadly mixture of ash, rock fragments, and hot gases rushed down ravines and stream channels on the sides of the volcano,” the observatory said. “Since these pyroclastic flows often move at speeds of greater than 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, they easily topple trees, homes, or anything else in their path.”
Rescue teams were having difficulty identifying the bodies of victims, USA Today reported, as the lava had erased such markers as fingerprints and visual features.
BGR is not a Southern Baptist Convention entity, but partners with Southern Baptists in meeting global human needs. Its work is fundamentally undergirded by those who give through their local churches to the Cooperative Program and to the Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief fund.
“If you would like to help minister to those affected by this disaster, please pray and consider giving to BGR’s disaster response fund at www.gobgr.org,” Palmer said.