By Tristan Taylor, International Mission Board
TALCA, Chile (BP)—Exhausted from traveling through south-central Chile to assess earthquake damage, a team of Southern Baptist and Chilean Baptist leaders bedded down on the floor of La Iglesia Bautista El Sembrador (Baptist Church of the Sower) in Talca. The next morning they discovered they were in exactly the right place to make significant connections to help with future relief work.
The region of Maule, where Talca is the capital, has been in a state of emergency — a condition that temporarily puts the Chilean military in charge — since the 8.8-magnitude earthquake Feb. 27.
Just blocks away from the church where the team had slept was a Chilean army post. Because of their proximity, the assessment team decided to visit the military compound to discuss relief efforts. Team members Charles Clark and Scott Brawner of the International Mission Board and Chilean Baptist Bernardino Morales were able to meet with two Chilean army colonels — Edmundo Villarroel and Fernando Morales.
The Chilean officials invited Southern Baptists to adopt “sister cities” in Maule, one of the areas hardest hit by the quake and resulting tsunami. Maule’s rural communities and parts east toward the Andes Mountains have received less attention because of the misperception they are less affected, said Clark, an IMB missionary who serves as strategy leader for the part of South America that includes Chile.
Adopting a city means a team of Southern Baptist missionaries and Chilean Baptists will plan multiple visits there to identify needs and guide quake relief involving Baptist volunteers. The goal will be to share the Gospel and begin ministry.
Details of the “sister city” program are still being finalized, but information about how to be involved will be announced soon, Clark said.
Discussions with the army colonels also paved the way for officials from Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization, and volunteers from South Carolina and Texas to expand their relief efforts.
A food preparation training team from the South Carolina Baptist Convention currently is working with Chilean Baptists in the Maule region. Additional volunteers from South Carolina and from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention also are heading to Chile during the coming week. Clark and others on the assessment team are pleased with the progress they’ve made.
“I came with no preset agenda other than coming to identify what the situation is on the ground — what the needs are and how we can address those needs,” Clark said. “I am very pleased that within 24 hours we have an outline in place for a plan to go forward.”
During the team’s visit to the military compound, they saw a gymnasium filled with tables where Chilean leaders – both military and civilian – were working to deliver resources as reports of need came in from the Maule region. Soon, Southern Baptist disaster relief personnel will staff their own table in this gym, where they will serve as a resource for meeting needs across Maule.
“You know what’s amazing?” Brawner said after the visit to the military post. “No one else — secular or Christian — has gone in there like that. They greeted us with joy that we would come in there to them. God granted us favor in their eyes…. They’ll connect us with leaders. That’s influence. That’s huge.”
Because of this connection, supplies funded by Southern Baptist donations to the relief effort may be delivered to communities in Chile via Chilean military helicopters, Clark added.
“They become a good source of the big picture,” Clark said of the Chilean army leaders. “They’re a source of information for what’s happening and a conduit for large projects. They make it possible to facilitate getting aid to the right places.”
In addition to the Chilean military, the assessment team met with several top civil leaders in the region, including Maule’s governor, a regional health official and several mayors.
From these meetings, the team learned that the region’s greatest needs are for food distribution, emergency housing and medical supplies. The relationships with these officials also will provide valuable information and access as Southern Baptists and Chilean Baptists work to meet needs in the area.
“The influence of the church is growing,” Brawner said.
Later in the day, assessment team members traveled to the Maule city of Pencahue as a follow-up to a meeting with its mayor. While visiting with officials, the team decided to include Pencahue among those to be “adopted” by Southern Baptist and Chilean Baptist churches. Pencahue has a population of 9,000, spread across 386 square miles. Though the city is suffering just as much as its neighbors, the thinly spread population means it may be overlooked by major relief efforts, officials said.
As relief efforts get under way, one of the best ways Southern Baptist churches can help is “to commit to an adopted city for three to five years,” Clark said, noting that churches and individual Southern Baptists also can get involved by praying, donating to relief efforts and volunteering.
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas. Donations to Southern Baptist Chilean relief may be made at http://www.imb.org (click on the Chile quake response graphic). One hundred percent of each donation goes to meet human needs. Updated prayer requests can be viewed at imb.org/pray. Information also will be updated through Twitter at #QuakeResponse.