PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster
Relief (SBDR) work continues on American Samoa, weeks after an earthquake —
measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale — struck the South Pacific island,
triggering a deadly tsunami that killed 31 people, including six Southern
Baptists. But SBDR volunteers say Southern Baptist church members have yet
to respond to the needs created by the disaster.
Water purification has emerged as SBDR’s key ministry
operation in American Samoa since the Sept. 29 tsunami, according to Bruce
Poss, disaster relief coordinator for the SBC’s North American Mission Board
(NAMB). As of mid-November, water purification volunteers have purified
more than 4,000 gallons of water in 17 villages throughout the island, located
about six hours south of Hawaii.
While natural but tainted water is available in most
locations on the island, authorities have urged Samoans to boil the water, said
Poss. But villagers are unwilling to do so because they choose to spend their
limited money on propane fuel to cook food for their families rather than boil
water – making water purification vital.
“We’re using the great analogy between the dirty
water, which represents man as a sinner, and the clean water that represents
Jesus Christ and the forgiven man saved by grace through faith,” says NAMB
Mission Service Corps missionary (MSC) Randy Corn. “We use that at the
beginning as we start the purification process to let the Samoan people know
why we’re there.”
Corn and Ronda — his wife of 28 years — are NAMB MSC
missionaries who live in Horse Shoe, N.C., and serve in conjunction with NAMB’s
adult volunteer mobilization team in the areas of disaster relief, Baptist
Builders, Campers on Mission and Families on Mission. Following the
earthquake and tsunami, the couple volunteered to spend time in American Samoa
to minister to victims and spread the gospel.
The Corns left American Samoa before Thanksgiving, replaced by
yet another missionary couple, Leon and Sara White from Alabaster, Ala.
While Corn has been overseeing water purification on the
island, wife Ronda has been involved with prayerwalking and Bible study with
members of the local Chinese Baptist Church. The Chinese are one of many
people groups represented in American Samoa.
“Through an interpreter, the Chinese people are telling us
‘you don’t know how much we appreciate your helping us,’” said
Ronda. “They ask us how long we’re going to be here and ask us if we’re
‘We see Jesus’
“They tell us that ‘we don’t understand your language, but
we see Jesus in you. We’ve been praying for someone to come and teach us,’”
Ronda says of the Chinese women she has ministered to.
Many of the American Samoan villagers fortunate enough to
survive the tsunami lost everything they owned when four devastating waves —
each 15-20 feet high — blanketed the island early on the morning of Sept. 29,
washing people, structures, personal belongings and vehicles out to sea.
Ronda loves to tell the story of “Susi” — a 64-year-old
Samoan woman, her long gray hair neatly knotted in a bun — who lives in the
village of Asili on the western tip of American Samoa.
“Susi told me the amazing story of how the tsunami gutted
her home and how God spared her life,” recounts Ronda.
“Susi was in her home about 50 yards from the beach doing
some morning chores. She had no warning and no way of knowing that 135
miles away, a tsunami was brewing which would level her house within 15
According to Ronda, Susi’s house suddenly became very dark
and as she looked out her front window, a huge tsunami wave was heading right
for her home. Susi ran out the back door to the only other shelter she
knew — an outside toilet made of cinder blocks.
“Just as she ran into the outhouse, the tsunami wave hit,
filling the interior with water and lifting Susi up to the top of the tiny
block building. Her head was lodged in an open space of only 12 inches
between the top of the blocks and the exposed rafters. Wave after wave
smashed against the concrete outhouse. All became quiet again and as the
seawater receded, Susi found herself back on the floor — without a scratch.”
Now, seven weeks later, most of her home is gone and what’s
left has been condemned. But the cinderblock outhouse
remains. Because of the tsunami, Susi now has 10 adults and children
living with her in her condemned house, only because it’s better than what they
have — nothing.
“Susi was very emotional and wept as she talked about how
God spared her life,” Ronda recalls. “I had the tremendous honor of praying
with Susi for the peace that passes all understanding, for comfort and for the
Lord to provide for all of her needs.”
Off the radar
Randy and Ronda Corn worry that American Samoa has fallen
off the radar screen, and that Southern Baptists have forgotten about the
significant material and spiritual needs on the 76-square-mile island.
NAMB’s Poss believes that Southern Baptists still have a
challenging mission in American Samoa which — with a population of 69,000 — is
a United States territory. Because of the island’s relationship to the
U.S., some American Samoans will qualify for recovery grants from FEMA.
“But American Samoa is made up of many different
nationalities,” Ronda explains. “There are the Samoan people, and there are the
expatriates. Fifty percent of the island’s current population are
expatriates, who do not qualify for any FEMA assistance.”
What can Southern Baptists do for the American Samoans
devastated by the tsunami? According to the Corns, the best thing to do is
give a monetary donation toward recovery efforts.
“The yellow shirts are becoming well known,” said Ronda
Corn. “(The Samoans) are absolutely some of the most beautiful people in the
The Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention has established a fund
for individuals and organizations wanting to support relief efforts in American
Samoa. Donations may be mailed to the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention,
Samoa Disaster Relief Fund, 2042 Vancouver Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822.
Donations can also be made through NAMB’s disaster relief
web site, www.namb.net/dr.
North Carolina Baptist Men has a partnership with the Hawaii
Pacific Baptist Convention and has projects planned for 2010. Contact Mark
Abernathy at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5607, or [email protected].
Contributions to that work and to relief also can be made
through N.C. Baptist Men.
Southern Baptist state conventions train their own disaster
relief volunteers, purchase their own disaster relief units, and respond to
disasters occurring in their own states. NAMB coordinates national Southern
Baptist Disaster Relief efforts when a disaster requires response from multiple
NAMB maintains agreements with national entities such as the
Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army
and other state and local entities. Together, Southern Baptists have more than
85,000 volunteers trained for disaster relief response.