Hurricane-hit Haiti relies on Florida Baptists for initial response

Baptist Evangelical Church of Porrier in Jean-Rabel, Haiti, was devastated by Hurricane Matthew. (Courtesy/Florida Baptist Convention)At least 1,000 people have died, with many already being buried in mass graves, following the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti during the first week of this month. And cholera, a killer disease contracted through contaminated water, is beginning to spread quickly, according to numerous national news sources.

Some 1.4 million people in Haiti need humanitarian assistance, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Just six years after an earthquake brought this impoverished country to its knees, Hurricane Matthew slammed the island country, bringing misery upon misery.

As the destruction and loss of life are still being tallied in Haiti, Florida Baptists, represented by Craig Culbreth, are on the ground there assessing needs and strategizing response.

“We are hoping we can have a response and help those people in the south end” of the island, said Culbreth, lead catalyst for missions and ministries, in a videotaped interview from Haiti.

“Although the largest population center in Haiti, Port-au-Prince, escaped major damage from Hurricane Matthew, the southern areas of Haiti were devastated,” reported Culbreth.

In the southern part of Haiti, UNICEF estimates that up to 80 percent of the homes are damaged and nearly 16,000 people are staying in temporary shelters.

Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste de Haiti (CMBH) Ministry Director DeLouis LaBranche has been in early contact with pastors in the affected southwest region near Les Cayes. Although the numbers may increase, his initial estimates are that about 100 to 200 churches and 5,000 homes lost their roofs, 2,000 houses flooded, and nine people died in the locality of Cavaillon. In other areas, as many as 20,000-30,000 have lost their homes, he reported.

Although firsthand news reports are spotty due to the widespread devastation, messages and pleas for help from pastors are slowly beginning to trickle in to Florida Baptists, who have ministered in Haiti for more than 20 years.

The structure of Baptist Evangelical Church of Porrier in Jean-Rabel, served by Pastor Garry Tanélus, reportedly has been devastated, along with most homes in the surrounding community. The area’s livestock has been washed away; and its vegetation destroyed, according to an email report from Haiti leader Jean Garry Auguste.

“It is those animals and gardens that the Haitians depend so heavily on for daily provisions,” said Culbreth.

Pastor Tanélus graduated just last year from the CMBH’s Bible Institute in Haiti and has served the church in Haiti in numerous positions for the past 19 years, reported Auguste.

“Today I called our church to solidarity. This Sunday we’ll do a special fundraising to help Pastor Tanélus, the church members in Jean-Rabel and some of the most affected people in the community. They also need first aid products such as toothpaste tubes, soap, toothbrush, toilet paper, shampoo, tablets for fever, flu or pain, etc.,” wrote Auguste.

Fellow Pastor Joassaint Josue has been able to send two urgent Twitter messages since the storm: “Bridges of Hope Baptist Mission have several churches that are very damaged from Hurricane Matthew. Our pastor [needs] help,” and “New Life for the poor children at Gressier is now flooded. Need prayer and financial donation to repair the bunk beds.”

Already, prior to any major post-hurricane relief to Haiti, Florida Baptists, in partnership with the CMBH, have pre-staged the provision of rice and water in the island’s hardest-hit areas.

As Culbreth makes his way to the south side of Haiti in the coming days, seeking to discover “just where God wants us to serve,” he voices a realistic resolve. “We can't solve all problems, but we can make a difference in the lives of many. We are hoping to use this as an opportunity to overcome obstacles.”

Disaster relief volunteers may be enlisted in the coming days to travel to Haiti to offer the hope of Christ amid the devastation, Culbreth said.

Today the CMBH has approximately 1,726 congregations with 184,678 members and 335,500 in worship attendance. In 2015, CMBH churches planted 110 new congregations, led 59,324 people to Christ and baptized 35,557 new believers.

Southern Baptists are encouraged to pray for the devastated areas. Donations to Florida Baptist Disaster Relief can be made at http://flbaptist.org/disaster-relief-donations.

Margaret Colson is a writer in Marietta, Ga., and executive director of the Baptist Communicators Association (www.baptistcommunicators.org).

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