ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)—Southern Baptist disaster relief leaders received permission from federal authorities and an invitation from Baptist churches in Puerto Rico to begin disaster relief on the hurricane-ravaged island.
The Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico asked the North American Mission Board and its Send Relief ministry to manage the disaster response.
“We have officially requested Send Relief to coordinate the disaster relief response in Puerto Rico,” said Jorge Alvarez, who leads the Puerto Rican convention. “The needs here are unprecedented, and we need our entire Southern Baptist family to help Puerto Rico during this tragic time.”
David Melber, NAMB’s vice president of Send Relief, and his team will work with state Southern Baptist disaster relief partners to make sure Southern Baptists meet the need. Send Relief not only includes traditional Southern Baptist disaster relief ministry and its network of trained workers, but also gives service options for church groups and individual volunteers who lack specific training.
“This really is an unprecedented event in Puerto Rico’s history,” Melber said. “We as Southern Baptists cannot let our neighbors and friends down.”
NAMB and Southern Baptist disaster relief received permission Sept. 28 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to move in to Puerto Rico. Search and rescue operations remain underway, but Send Relief soon will begin to send help to those who are on the fringes of the ravaged island where relief has been more difficult to come by.
As the plan to send help and hope unfolds, NAMB will work with Southern Baptists to establish church-to-church partnerships that will help meet long-term needs.
Texas Baptist Men will send at least 3,000 water filtration devices to Puerto Rico. Each can provide 15 gallons of clean water a day.
While awaiting FEMA’s go-ahead, NAMB started coordinating with pastors in Puerto Rico, FEMA and other relief organizations to prepare the way for both immediate and long-term response. NAMB has prepared relief packages for Puerto Rican Southern Baptist pastors that are filled with resources to help them serve their communities.
In the coming weeks, NAMB and Southern Baptist disaster relief will send volunteers who will staff kitchens and provide food for Hurricane Maria survivors. Trained disaster relief personnel will be sent to the island first, followed later by untrained volunteers, who will receive training on-site or en-route to their service destinations.