AREQUIPA, Peru (BP)–Several people made decisions for Christ when Southern Baptist missions volunteers shared their faith in the immediate aftermath of a powerful earthquake that struck southern Peru and parts of Bolivia and Chile on June 23.
An International Mission Board team is heading into the quake zone to find ways Southern Baptists can minister to families devastated by the disaster.
The massive earthquake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, killed at least 71 people and left more than 20,000 homeless. Thousands of people were forced to sleep outdoors in the sub-zero temperatures of Peru’s Andes Mountains.
The 70-member volunteer team from Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., was passing through Arequipa on its way to Cotahuasi, where they had planned a prayer hike, said Susan Gay, a Southern Baptist missionary based in Quito, Ecuador. One busload of volunteers had left the city when the earthquake struck at 3:33 p.m., forcing them to return.
About 20 team members were able to find housing in an Arequipa hotel owned by a Christian woman, and the rest camped in a park across the street, Gay said.
The team held a worship service in that park on Sunday and several people made decisions for Christ during the service, she said. On Monday the team divided into groups to evangelize on the streets of Arequipa.
The tremors flattened entire towns, where houses made of mud brick were unable to withstand the force of the earthquake. The quake also triggered mudslides that blocked roads and cut off electricity supplies and phone lines.
Emergency workers are scouring the mountains for survivors. Authorities have appealed for food, medicine, blankets and other forms of humanitarian aid. Officials expect the death toll may rise as more bodies are recovered in remote villages.
The quake was the strongest in Peru for 30 years. In May 1970 a quake of the same magnitude killed 70,000 and left some 600,000 homeless.
Southern Baptists are sending a team into the area to assess relief needs. The team will focus on towns and villages between Arequipa and the coast, which were heavily damaged but may be missed by large-scale relief efforts focused on the urban area.
The team will have $10,000 in emergency funds immediately available to jump-start relief efforts and expects to make recommendations for long-term projects like cleaning up homes and neighborhoods. Specific ways Southern Baptist volunteers may be able to help will be outlined after the assessment team completes it work.
Requests for further financial assistance are expected as projects get underway. No International Mission Board workers are currently stationed in Arequipa.
Contributions toward the relief efforts can be sent to: International Mission Board, General Relief Fund – Peru Earthquake, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.