Cape Town, South Africa—When disaster strikes, Baptist leaders in southern Africa don’t want to depend heavily on foreign aid. As Christians, they want to demonstrate God’s love themselves. They want to help take care of their own people.
Baptist Global Response is helping the Baptist Union of Southern Africa begin this disaster relief ministry by forging a relationship between it and the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
The Baptist Union consists of hundreds of churches in the continent’s southern region, according to its website, and in cooperation with the two organizations, the union will create the first disaster relief organization operated by South African Baptists.
The partnership began 10 months ago, when Jeff O’Loughlin, a BGR disaster relief and community development coordinator, met Errol Muller, whom he described as the director of the Baptist Union’s holistic ministry organization. Muller had been tasked with establishing a disaster response program. Large secular relief agencies already operated within the country, and the Baptist Union wanted to establish a Christian alternative.
“South African Baptists have the will, expertise and resources necessary for an effective disaster response organization,” O’Loughlin wrote in an email. “They just needed the know how to put it all together.”
O’Loughlin knew the Baptist Union would need direction from a well-run disaster relief organization with experience in southern Africa. So, he turned to the disaster relief arm of the KBC, which has responded to several major disasters, such as a flood in Japan and the water crisis in Flint, Mich. He felt the KBC and the Baptist Union would work well together because of comparable size and scope.
From Feb. 28 to March 4, KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood and KBC Disaster Relief Director Coy Webb began to cement a partnership. They spent the week in Cape Town, South Africa, meeting with and training leaders from the Baptist Union in disaster relief strategy.
Webb said he assessed communities within Cape Town alongside Baptist Union members, and he saw the potential hazards for which the organization knew it needed to prepare. He said he was concerned about the city’s shantytowns, which consist of flimsy houses built close together.
Webb described the informal settlements as major fire hazards and said many other impoverished neighborhoods are at risk for flooding, as well.
In his discussions with the Baptist Union, he encouraged them to focus and prepare for fire and flood scenarios while also training in trauma care. He wanted the budding organization to start small.
“It would be far better to find gap areas right now in current disaster responses … and maybe begin with two or three ministries, and (then) allow the ministry to grow as more resources become available,” he said.
“Rather than trying to do too much initially and becoming overwhelmed or perhaps not having adequate volunteers or resources to do things in an effective manner,” Webb said.
The KBC and Baptist Union are still working out the details of their partnership. However, Chitwood said it will likely involve disaster response workshops, for which the KBC will provide trainers, and Webb said it might send a team to work alongside the Baptist Union, as well, during a disaster. Chitwood and Webb are both eager to share their personnel.
“Our volunteers are very well organized, well trained and have a lot of experience with this,” Chitwood said.
As the relationship between the KBC and the Baptist Union of Southern Africa develops, BGR will continue acting as a liaison between the two organizations, and O’Loughlin said it might also send representatives to help with training.
Within two or three years, BGR and KBC hope the Baptist Union disaster relief operation can function on its own. It could even start responding to international disasters, as well. Chitwood said he admires the leadership’s drive to become independent, and he finds their assertiveness and enthusiasm encouraging. (WR)
*Lily Jameson is a staff writer for Baptist Global Response.