ATLANTA (ABP) — As Baptists began to dig in for a long-term response to the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, focus shifted Feb. 27 to another quake that killed hundreds and caused billions of dollars in property damage in Chile.
By Monday, March 1, the death toll from the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake reached 700, with workers still searching through rubble for missing persons. Leaders of Baptist organizations in the United States with partners in Chile urged prayer for quake victims while awaiting information about ways to respond to human need.
"Baptists around the world are being asked to pray for the people of Chile as they seek to recover from such a devastating earthquake," said Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, a global network of Baptist unions and conventions based in Falls Church, Va. "Let us stand by them during these trying times. In due course we will mobilize to come to their assistance."
Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, said the relief-and-development arm of the BWA is monitoring the situation and stands ready to provide whatever assistance it can.
Raquel Contreras, president of the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile and a vice president of the BWA, was traveling in the U.S. when the earthquake hit. She managed to confirm her family was safe but was still making inquiries about the state of the country's Baptists.
Chris Boltin, director of short-term assignments and partnerships manager for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said in a blog that he spoke and prayed with Contreras by phone.
Boltin said he befriended several Chilean Baptists last year when he visited South America as part of five-year mission partnership between the Atlanta-based CBF and Chilean Baptist union that began in 2008.
"All I could do was pray, encourage, and offer my support," Boltin said. "I did not have any answers. Right now I would ask all of us to do the same. Pray and offer a word of encouragement. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Chile. Pray for safety and strength for those who are confronting loss."
The 500-church Baptist union is the larger of two BWA member bodies in Chile. International Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA attempted to contact Mario Ramos, president of the 46-church Convention of Baptist Churches of the Chilean Mission, but was awaiting reply.
Barbara and Dwight Bollock, International Missions personnel assigned to Chile, were not in the country at the time of the earthquake but planned to return March 2.
"Our hearts go out to the people of Chile, especially those in the Santiago area that has borne the brunt of the devastation," Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches, said March 1 "As disciples of Jesus we are convinced that their suffering does not go unnoticed by God who on the cross took into himself the suffering of the world."
American Baptist officials will collect relief funds for Chile through normal channels in the One Great Hour of Sharing, an ecumenical relief offering that collects gifts for humanitarian aid from nine Christian denominations.
Baptist World Aid is accepting donations for Chile earthquake relief by mail and online.
Boltin said CBF leaders were in conversation with both the BWA and Chilean Baptist union about ways to help. "We understand that many of your will want to offer assistance," he said. "As we discover tangible, concrete ways for you and your congregation to assist, we will let you know."
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.