UPDATE: AG Responds to Global Disasters
A recent streak of natural disasters and tragedies has left millions of people injured, homeless or displaced, and without daily living necessities. As well, thousands of lives have been lost.
Around the world and at home, AG World Missions, national church leaders and members, AG U.S. Missions, and Convoy of Hope are on the forefront not only as first responders, but also as partners who will stand alongside victims throughout the recovery and rebuilding process. Their collective call to the church is to stay in prayer and stay involved.
The Caribbean, Cuba, and Puerto Rico
Within the first few days of September, hurricanes Irma and Maria laid waste to many Caribbean island nations, as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Ninety-five percent of all buildings in the vulnerable nation of Barbuda were destroyed by Irma, with the notable exception of a Christian education wing recently built on to Barbuda Pentecostal Assembly of God that doubled as a community storm shelter. The intact building has allowed the church to better serve its devastated community in days since.
Irma battered Cuba for a full 24 hours, leaving 3.1 million people without running water and 26,000 homeless. Over 4,000 homes and 100 Cuban AG properties (including small houses that serve double duty as both parsonages and churches) were destroyed.
Hurricane Maria virtually leveled Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, becoming the most powerful storm to strike the nation in 80 years. The Puerto Rico AG suffered significant loss of property and equipment, including the headquarters building and Bible school. The entire island was without power immediately following the storm, and officials believe many Puerto Ricans will remain without power for months.
Such power outages create ongoing problems as residents run out of food and water. Additional challenges include law enforcement, as looters and thieves take advantage of the chaos, and public health, as the large-scale destruction brings increased risk of injury and disease.
In a video post by Hal Donaldson, Convoy of Hope’s president and co-founder, he states: “I have seen disasters across the United States and around the world. This is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. … we saw car after car, a mile long, waiting for gas, people waiting for food . . . the need here is so significant.”
However, Convoy of Hope has a team in Puerto Rico and they have named three locations as distribution hubs. Donaldson says that Convoy of Hope has committed to Puerto Rico District Superintendent Iván De la Torre that the organization will “walk alongside him for the long haul to make sure that his people receive the help that they need.”
Twenty tons of rice was purchased and is being packaged in Puerto Rico for distribution, with more loads to come.
“We stand firm and want to help the affected people and those who have lost everything,” De la Torre states. “In the midst of this, we want to give hope to our island, showing the love of God through actions and compassion.”
An unexpected blessing also came when the governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, donated a plane filled with drinking water to the district to be distributed to areas in greatest need.
De la Torre says that in addition to aiding the people of Puerto Rico, the district will maintain an auxiliary center for Convoy of Hope from which to serve the entire Caribbean.
Convoy of Hope has posted that a cargo ship containing three million meals arrived in the British Virgin Islands, which lie directly east of Puerto Rico. So far, the Convoy team has been able to send nearly 1.2 million meals and distribute hundreds of hygiene kits, tarps, and solar lanterns.
In the case of such widespread need, it is important to identify and address the most effective ways to respond. “My passionate appeal is to let our national church partners most impacted by the disaster be the ones to define for us what their actual needs are,” says Dale Coad, AGWM Caribbean area director. “As missionaries, we can’t assume we know specifically what the needs are. Rather, we join with our national church partners to assess the needs and then formulate long-term strategies to meet those needs. Our approach to disaster relief and response must keep a long-term view.”
“Our Latin America Caribbean leadership are interacting with our missionaries and national church leadership throughout the Caribbean to ascertain the greatest needs and how we can most effectively help the suffering,” affirms AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis.
On Sept. 19, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico near the town of Raboso in the state of Puebla, about 76 miles southeast of Mexico City. More than 366 people lost their lives.
While most of the rubble of collapsed schools, offices, and apartments has been cleared away, the Mexican government reports 60,000 homes were either destroyed or designated for demolition, and the total population considered homeless is 250,000. Drinking water is scarce, and mosquito-borne illnesses are expected to escalate.
Just two weeks before, a magnitude 8.1 tremor in southern Mexico caused buildings in Mexico City to rock for more than 60 seconds and killed 90 people. Experts have stated that much of Mexico City is built on a former lakebed, which can amplify earthquakes even hundreds of miles away.
The city of Juchitán in the southeast Mexican state of Oaxaca, and Jojutla in the state of Morelos, also sustained severe damage, but present much greater logistical challenges for relief workers. AGWM missionaries (all of whom were reported safe after the quakes) and Mexican church leaders report many individuals are living in the streets, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Mexican churches are marshaling counselors and intercessors to minister, but the needy far outnumber caregivers.
Paul and Sandy Kazim, AGWM area directors of Mexico, are based in Mexico City. “The bottom line is that neither the federal government nor any of the relief agencies combined will be able to completely meet the need in this zone,” they state. “The people desperately need God to hold back the violence, sickness and despair. Prayer is urgently needed.”
AG World Missions was able to rapidly distribute $25,000 of desperately needed relief funds to Mexico to accelerate recovery efforts.
The Mexico AG’s National Missions Department is coordinating relief efforts in southern Mexico’s earthquake zone. Director Cesar Casillas has invited all U.S. personnel to work directly with them, and many Mexican Christians are spearheading recovery efforts in remote areas, doing their best to provide food and shelter to quake victims. Relief boxes for young mothers (diapers, wipes, formula, feminine products and chocolate), young students (backpacks, notebooks, pencils and crayons) and senior citizens (rice, beans, oil, pasta, tuna and coffee) are being distributed.
Resting in the South Pacific’s geographical Ring of Fire is the island nation of Vanuatu. In September, Manaro Voui volcano – the country’s largest – showed increased activity, threatening residents of Ambae (a northern island of Vanuatu) with burning ash, toxic gas and acid rain.
Since then, crops have been threatened by acid rain, and many of the island’s sources of drinking water have been corrupted, leaving thousands without safe water. Explosions every 10 to 12 seconds hurled lava bombs up to 100 yards, and two small lava flows ran across the island. The rapid rise of heat from the volcano is visible to satellites.
Reuters described the ensuing government-ordered evacuation of Ambae’s 11,500 residents as “Dunkirk-style” (referencing the famous World War II evacuation by an armada of private small boats of more than 300,000 primarily British Allied troops from the coast of France).
Ambae residents were relocated to Santo, Malekula, Maewo, and Pentecost islands. On Santo island, AGWM missionary to Vanuatu Bryan Webb began leading relief efforts for evacuees.
AG World Missions immediately transferred $25,000 in relief funds to Vanuatu and Webb has modified the Sanma Bible Training Center (SBTC) campus to accommodate roughly 250 people, including putting in four septic tanks, 10 toilets, and 10 showers. Enough food has been purchased to feed the 450 evacuees staying on the campus and in nearby AG churches. Hygiene packs of toilet paper, laundry soap, hand soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, diapers, and other supplies have been purchased for the same number.
Also, Convoy of Hope has two shipping containers with 400,000 meals that were sent to Vanuatu this week.
“The Red Cross and the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office assessed our facilities,” Bryan says. “Both told me that our evacuation center is the best on Santo island.”
As funding becomes available, supplies are in place to immediately upgrade cooking facilities, put up a tabernacle, arrange housing for 50 more evacuees, and provide food and water for more than 1,000 evacuees being held in a football stadium while waiting for placement.
“For missionaries, ministry doesn’t stop when we respond to a crisis,” Bryan says. “Church planting teams are still going out every weekend. Primary school and Bible school classes are still being taught. Wells are still being dug in response to an ongoing, multiyear drought. Site work and preparations for building the next phase of SBTC are going forward, as is construction of a clinic on Pentecost island. Pray for grace and resilience for the missionary team as we add the responsibility of 11,000 evacuees to our existing work.”
Massive floods have swept India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan following record monsoon rains this summer. OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) estimates 41 million people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are affected and endangered by current floods.
Approximately 1,200 deaths have been reported, with that number expected to rise as food insecurity and waterborne diseases come increasingly into play. Landslides continually threaten and compound existing problems. At least 1 million homes have been destroyed, with poor areas being the hardest hit. Enormous areas of farmland and crops have also been ruined.
“Pray for miracles of provision, restoration, healing, and peace for the people of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan,” urges AGWM Eurasia regional director Omar Beiler.
“Pray for the protection of rescue workers and medical personnel. Pray that
AG churches and ministry teams in the region will have increased opportunity to share the gospel as they undertake local relief projects.”
The United States
Across the United States, countless lives have been affected in recent weeks by Hurricane Irma’s destruction in Florida, the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and subsequent floods in Texas, and wildfires sweeping the Northwest.
“Our prayers are with the persons impacted by the hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada,” says U.S. Missions Executive Director-elect Malcolm Burleigh. “May God draw near with His comfort, as our Fellowship reaches out with an arm of compassion.”
AG World Missions, Convoy of Hope, and AG U.S. Missions are bringing practical, compassionate aid to hundreds of thousands of hurricane, flood and fire victims. Since responses began in the U.S. just over a month ago, Convoy of Hope has distributed more than 7 million pounds of supplies to hurricane survivors in Texas and Florida.
“We are grateful for the incredible churches and partners that come alongside Convoy of Hope during times of disaster,” says Hal Donaldson, president of Convoy of Hope. “Because of these partnerships, we are able to give help and hope to survivors in need.”
AGUSM missionaries David and Tammy Houck pastor Salt Life Church in Silver Springs, Fla., and run the Help Agency, Inc., a ministry that serves impoverished residents deep in the Ocala National Forest. The Houcks have been on the forefront of hurricane preparation and relief in their community.
“After more than a week without power or water, our families are digging out of the mess.” David says. “We cut an untold number of trees, delivered chicken dinners to as many families as possible, and facilitated the deliveries of ice and water. We also went down to Key Largo to help the church there feed their town. Pray that because the Church, people will continue to see the hand of Christ throughout the storm.”
Even beyond material assistance, ministry personnel within each crisis zone agree that prayer must remain the primary tool for recovery. Prayer support will continue to be vital as homes, churches and ministry centers are rebuilt. Communities will need faithful prayer as infrastructure and life necessities are restored. People who have suffered recent trauma need prayer for the restoration of hope and peace. Most critically, these crises bring powerful reminders of life’s transience and every person’s spiritual need.