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Shelters for Chilean families yield ‘open door’ for witness

TIRUA, Chile (BP)–Wiping tears from her eyes, the 21-year-old mother thanked Baptists for providing shelter for her family.

“I want to give thanks to everyone for this shelter,” Rosa Inostroza de Santibañez said of the 10-by-20-foot structure with wood walls and a tin roof for her family in Tirua, Chile. “We are very thankful. We are going to sleep under a roof tonight and not on the ground.”

She and her family had been living in a makeshift lean-to pieced together by her husband Rodrigo after the family had to run for higher ground to escape an earthquake-induced tsunami Feb. 27.

“We didn’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t come,” Rosa said of the Chilean Baptists and volunteers from Second Baptist Church in Russellville, Ark., who delivered the shelter March 24. “We didn’t have any other options open to us.”

Early in the morning of Feb. 27, an earthquake crumbled their roof. Less than an hour later a tsunami crashed into their Pacific coast town.

Rosa and Rodrigo grabbed their 2-year-old daughter while Rosa’s mother, Luz, pushed her 30-year-old wheelchair-bound daughter up a steep hill amid neighbors running and cars racing to escape the wave.

The older daughter is living with other relatives, while Luz stays with Rosa and her family on the hill. They had been sleeping in a tarp-covered enclosure just large enough to hold two twin-sized mattresses pushed together. They’ve salvaged some of their belongings by making trips on foot up and down the hill to get dishes and blankets.

At night, their young daughter, Anahís, is afraid as the cold coastal winds of Chilean autumn whip against the tarp in the dark. Rodrigo and Rosa comfort their daughter by shining a flashlight. They have no electricity.

Luz is afraid to sleep in the section of the family’s home that wasn’t damaged because aftershocks continue.

“I’m afraid that the tremors are going to get stronger instead of weaker,” she said.

Municipalities are helping families rebuild. But the need is far-reaching. Many homes at water’s edge were swept away, strewing debris and belongings along the Tirua River that feeds into the ocean. Local authorities also are providing food at a school located at the bottom of the town’s hill.

The bread store where 20-year-old Rodrigo worked as a baker was damaged; then looters stole all the equipment. Rodrigo volunteers at the school, helping distribute food and clothing until the bread store reopens or he can find another job.

It may take families several years to rebuild, to make repairs or to add on to temporary shelters to make them more permanent, said International Mission Board missionary Trent Tomlinson.

Rodrigo agreed. “This will be our home for a while,” he said.

Tomlinson realized this area’s need while he and fellow missionaries Anders Snyder and David Hines drove through it to assess damage two days after the quake.

About 50 people representing churches from several denominations met in Tomlinson’s home, forming a plan to fan out and meet needs generated by the disaster.

“This is an open door,” Tomlinson said. “We’re earning the right to be heard here.”

The volunteers delivered pre-assembled shelters to four other families, including handyman Juan Gonzalez. His home — located 650 feet from the ocean — was destroyed by the tsunami while he was staying in Concepción, close to the earthquake’s epicenter.

“I’m one of the fortunate ones to be able to move in [to a shelter] so quickly,” Gonzalez said.

Fisherman Manuel Arias came home from a family gathering to find his house, boat and dock destroyed.

“I was feeling desperate, not knowing what to do,” Arias said. “I almost felt like I was out of the hands of God.”

His shelter is being put together in a section of town called Nueva Esperanza (New Hope).

“I’ve got new hope now to keep moving forward,” Arias said.

Mario Barros, president of Iglesia Misionera Internacional Agape (Agape International Missionary Church, an association of national Baptist congregations), met with the mayor of Tirua the day before volunteers arrived with the shelters.

“We want to be organized and be a channel of hope to those who need it,” said Barros, who works alongside Tomlinson as a church planter.

Honey producer José Prado from Iglesia Bautista de Cunco (Cunco Baptist Church) responded to a request Barros made on a Christian radio station for help in transporting the shelters prefabricated by volunteers in Temuco. He donated the use of his open-bed transfer truck, which he uses to transport beehives. He drove the shelters 80 miles to Tirua and helped with their construction.

“I always like to help and when I heard Mario on the radio … I saw this as a possibility to do that,” Prado said.

It took Chilean and Arkansas Baptist volunteers about three days to construct sections for five shelters. It will take several weeks to construct the hundreds of shelters that have been requested, Tomlinson said.

Volunteer teams interested in helping can e-mail [email protected] or call 615-367-3678. Projects such as building these shelters are possible through giving to Southern Baptist relief efforts. Donations to Southern Baptist Chilean relief may be made at http://www.imb.org (click on the Chile quake response graphic).
Kate Gregory is a writer for the International Mission Board. Updated prayer requests for Baptist relief work can be viewed at imb.org/pray. Information also will be updated through Twitter at #QuakeResponse. Listen to Shane Wooten, one of the volunteers from Second Baptist Church in Russellville, Ark., as he talks about his week in Chile at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/108/10815/10815-57796.mp3.

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  • Kate Gregory