PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Florida Baptists are already onsite providing aid in Haiti, where nearly 1,000 people have died from Hurricane Matthew and scores more are sickened by cholera in the storm’s aftermath.
Craig Culbreth, the Florida Baptist Convention’s lead catalyst for missions and ministries, said the state’s Disaster Relief volunteers are already on the ground assessing need and strategizing response.
“We are hoping we can have a response and help those people in the south end” of the island where there is heavy devastation, he said in a videotaped interview from Haiti. Many of the dead are being buried in mass graves, he said, and cholera is spreading quickly from contaminated water.
“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. Some 1.4 million people in Haiti need humanitarian assistance, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste de Haiti ministry director DeLouis LaBranche has been in 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 said.
Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist humanitarian group, is monitoring several Southern Baptist state conventions in their outreach to Haiti, and stands ready to help provide funding upon request.
“Although Haiti has sustained damage, a large number of Baptist partners and NGOs are already entrenched there and are currently responding,” Jeff Palmer, BGR executive director, told Baptist Press.
BGR area directors are currently on their way to Cuba to evaluate damage with local partners and will be visiting and following up with Haiti partners in the next few weeks, the group said.
BGR has approved $100,000 for aid to Cuba, and is assessing damage in the Caribbean to determine the best use of donations there, BGR said. “We are working through an established network of churches and partners in (Cuba), and we feel our efforts will have the most impact there,” Palmer said.
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.
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, Haiti leader Jean Garry Auguste said in an email.
Haitians depend heavily on livestock and gardens for daily provisions, Culbreth said.
Florida Baptists in partnership with the CMBH arranged for rice and water to be delivered to 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.
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. (BP)