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Victims of Bolivian wildfires receive aid, hope from Baptists

ASCENSION DE GUARAYOS, Bolivia (BP)–Southern Baptist missionaries and Bolivian Baptists are witnessing and ministering to at least 3,000 left homeless by wildfires.
The fires, usually set in August by farmers and ranchers clearing land for cultivation, got out of hand because of drier than usual weather and a shift in wind direction. Some 700 homes were destroyed or damaged in the fires.
“ Families that have lost everything have taken refuge in the six school buildings in Ascension,” reports IMB missionary Tom Martin. “ In order to be able to restart classes, the government has set up tent camps in three places in the city.”
One camp, housing 400 to 600 people, is across the street from a Baptist church. The civic official in charge of organizing relief efforts has asked Baptists to administer it.
Baptists loaded a truck with food and other goods purchased by Southern Baptist disaster relief funds. Also on the truck were clothes donated by evangelicals of many denominations from the town of Montero. A Baptist farmer donated 200 pounds of rice.
The Bolivian Baptist Convention sent a later shipment of 5,000 tracts and several hundred Bibles.
Martin and journeyman missionary Trey Wooten, along with eight Bolivian volunteers, distributed tarps, mattresses and care packages to the 26 evangelical families who lost their homes.
Teresa Sandoval, a Bolivian Baptist nurse, was one of the volunteers who came to help with medicines, Martin said.
“ She primarily gave children cough medicines and attended to cuts and burns. She also gave families medicines for conjunctivitis in children’ s eyes. As people left her services, pastor Lauro Choque from Santa Cruz talked with each patient about the Lord.”
Martin and a Bolivian Baptist missionary also met with representatives of the different evangelical churches in Ascension. “ There was a great spirit of unity in the room as we talked about the future and how we would cooperate to meet needs,” he said.
One man showed up from La Chonta, a village 16 kilometers from Ascension. He turned down the relief goods being offered and told Martin that what he needed was Bibles.
“ Many people in my village think this is the end of the world,” the man said. “ They are asking how to become believers. I need Bibles.” Martin led him through a marked New Testament in Spanish.
Then the man indicated a 14-year-old named Fernando and said, “ He wants to accept Christ as his Savior.” So the missionary led the youth through the same Scriptures he had shown the man and the teenager prayed to receive Christ.
The team of Southern Baptist missionaries seeking to reach the Guarayo people group are planning a six-month human needs project that will include not only administration of the camp but also projects for buying seed and tools for the coming planting season.
Six to eight U.S. volunteer teams of nine to 15 people each also will be requested.
“ These teams will do a variety of jobs — medicine, cooking, carpentry and building, prayer walking and children, youth and women’ s activities,” Martin explained. “ Our team hopes to take advantage of the opportunity to witness to those in the camp about the love of God.
“ Thank you all so much for your prayers. We have felt them every step of the way.
“ Let me ask for prayer for the people who have been devastated by this fire,” Martin added. “ The trauma is in their eyes. They have been hard hit.
“ I am working to get people in the area who can primarily love folks. As much as anything else, they need to be loved. Pray that Christ’ s love will shine through.”

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  • Wally Poor