3 natural disasters prompt Baptist aid in Central America

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Three natural disasters -– a hurricane, volcanic eruption and earthquake -- delivered blows within a matter of days to the people of Guatemala, El Salvador and surrounding areas in Central America.

More than 700 people died, including 600 in Guatemala, as a result of landslides brought on by heavy rains from Hurricane Stan. The hurricane made landfall Oct. 4 and caused flooding in both countries. Six hundred people may still missing in Guatemala. Several Mayan communities have been destroyed.

“Many bridges have been destroyed and many villages have disappeared under landslides,” said International Mission Board missionary Carter Davis, an administrator in Middle America. “I anticipate that we will be requesting assistance from United States volunteers in the near- to mid-future, but, at this point, access to the affected areas is almost impossible, if not impossible.”

The IMB has shipped 2,000 blankets to missionaries in Guatemala for distribution and is working to send water purification systems into the devastated areas.

All relief funds given through the IMB go to help those suffering; none are used for administrative costs. Mission board personnel were able to be on location at the time of the disaster, ready to help, through Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

In El Salvador, landslides since Oct. 1 have caused more than 60 deaths and displaced more than 60,000 people. Before the hurricane, El Salvador’s Volcano Ilamatepec, sometimes called the Volcano Santa Ana, erupted Oct. 2. Located north of the capital city San Salvador, it filled the air with ash and smoke. Landslides killed two farmers immediately, and more than 30,000 people were evacuated from around the volcano.

At 7,812 feet above sea level, Volcano Ilamatepec is El Salvador’s highest point and has lain dormant since 1904.

Days of heavy rains from Hurricane Stan, which slammed the area on Oct. 4, made the mountainous coffee fields loose and muddy, causing landslides in El Salvador.

The morning of Oct. 7, a magnitude 6.2 undersea earthquake hit 35 miles southeast of San Salvador, according to the National Earthquake Information Center.

Philip and Peggy Johnson, International Mission Board missionaries in El Salvador, saw the country’s many relief groups pull together to save lives and start rebuilding after the rain stopped Oct. 8.

“We’ve been amazed at how this country has pulled together during this crisis,” said Philip Johnson, the board’s coordinator for missions work in El Salvador. “The eruption of the Ilamatepec volcano, the torrential rains of Hurricane Stan and a 6.2 earthquake on Friday morning could have knocked any country off its feet. But El Salvador responded quickly to the disaster.”

Mobilizing Southern Baptist relief work in El Salvador, IMB missionaries have delivered hundreds of pounds of rice, beans, corn flour, sugar, coffee, salt and oil, Johnson reported. They also have given out toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap and mattresses.

In addition to meeting the people’s immediate needs, missionaries distributed the Gospel of Luke to those living in temporary government-run shelters.

“As IMB missionaries, we thank God for the resources that have been made available to us through relief funds,” Johnson said. “Hot meals were provided at shelters in Izalco, San Isidro and Jiquilisco, many of them cooked in humble, ill-equipped church kitchens on stoves with only two burners.”

One cook told Johnson, “This could have happened to any of us; we have no choice but to help.”

Johnson said many displaced people will be able to return to their homes, but those whose homes were destroyed by landslides will have no place to go.

“Southern Baptists can help by continuing to give through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the World Hunger Fund and the Cooperative Program,” Johnson said. “More than anything, people’s prayers make a difference.”

The Johnsons ask Southern Baptists to pray for spiritual revival from the disasters in El Salvador and Guatemala.

-- Pray that God will give the missionaries a clear vision of how and where to work in the coming weeks and months. Assessing the areas of greatest need will be a priority. Finding places where believers can plant new churches will be essential.

-- Pray that God will give those pastors and lay leaders who have been involved in disaster relief a strong desire to see their efforts turn into fruit for God’s Kingdom. Pray that they will catch a vision for feeding spiritually hungry and thirsty people and for starting new churches.

--Pray for people who have lost loved ones, homes and crops. Many of them have lost all hope. What they have worked a lifetime to get (often an adobe house, a TV and a refrigerator) has been washed away in the rains. Many fear that the volcano will erupt again or that the rains will return. Pray that the Holy Spirit will awaken in them a desire to seek the Prince of peace, the Savior of the world, the God of hope.

Donations for relief work in Middle America may be made by calling 1-800-999-3113 or online at http://imb.org/worldhunger/ by clicking on “Give Now” through the General Relief Fund. Give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering through your local Southern Baptist church or go to http://ime.imb.org.

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