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Relief fund low; IMB limits response in Middle America

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptists’ response to the disaster in Middle America caused by Hurricane Mitch is being limited by a short supply of funds, says the director of the International Mission Board’s human needs program.
On Nov. 4, the board’s general relief fund stood at $42,186, said John Cheyne, interim director of the IMB human needs department. Since then, as much as $20,000 has been spent on projects to relieve the suffering of thousands of people whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
“Right now we are confining our response to emergency, life-threatening situations,” Cheyne said. “We have had to say to our missionaries, ‘Give us $5,000 of your life-threatening problems, and we can go ahead and try to deal with that.'”
Part of the problem comes from the fact that Southern Baptists have given generously for hunger relief, but gifts designated for world hunger cannot be used for disaster relief, Cheyne said.
“We desperately need funds designated for general relief,” he said. “So many people in Nicaragua and Honduras have lost homes and businesses that it’s just beyond description. We can’t use hunger funds for development and rehabilitation programs like that. The general relief funds are going to be very, very important in the months ahead.”
The situation also is compounded by the fact that Southern Baptist missionaries are responding simultaneously to major disasters in Bangladesh, the Caribbean and Middle America, Cheyne said.
The International Mission Board may be the only agency working in Honduras that has an adequate network for distributing emergency aid, Cheyne said.
“We have a tremendous network set up,” he said. “Our missionaries are working with Honduran Baptist pastors, and 61 churches have been set up as feeding stations. We have warehousing facilities and transportation from the airport out to the feeding stations.
“Other groups are coming down there with massive loads of material but really have no way for proper widespread distribution.”
A cargo plane loaded with food relief purchased with $178,000 of Southern Baptist hunger funds is scheduled to leave sometime the week of Nov. 9 for Honduras, Cheyne said. That shipment will meet emergency requests filed by missionaries for projects that will feed 6,000 people for one week. Another $35,000 has been released for food aid in Nicaragua.
Southern Baptists have a strong track record of helping people recover from disasters, Cheyne said.
He recalled the horrific famine in Ethiopia, where he and his wife, Marie, served as missionaries.
“So many agencies set up relief camps on major roads and brought the people out of their villages and fed them for a period of time in the camps,” he said. “Then the people were left destitute and many couldn’t even go back to their villages.
“Our missionaries went into a village and worked through farmers’ organizations to deliver emergency food supplies. The people cooked the food in their own houses, and as they were strengthened again after the drought they gave them seed and plows and the things they needed to get started again.”
The result was that people were able to stay in their homes and improve their condition — and large numbers of churches were started in places where missionaries had never before been allowed to go, he said.
Southern Baptists didn’t deliver relief just to start churches, he said. Southern Baptists were compelled to follow Jesus’ example and present the hope of the gospel by ministering to hurting people’s needs.
“We don’t meet human needs as a means to an end. We meet human needs because there is a human need,” he explained. “But everything goes out with an unapologetic witness as to who did it and why. We don’t apologize for that. That’s who we are and why we are involved.”
Contributions to the General Relief Fund may be sent to: Office of Finance, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

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  • Mark Kelly