PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — “There is a desperation here among
the Haitians that they are not going to make it through this,” said Dennis
Wilbanks of the Florida Baptist Convention after arriving in Port-au-Prince
Sunday, Jan. 17.
“No one wants to sleep inside a building for fear they won’t
come out of it alive the next morning,” said Wilbanks, a staff member in the
convention’s partnership missions department.
Wilbanks and Joseph Gaston, director of the convention’s
language Haitian church development department, are in Port-au-Prince to begin
the process of determining how Florida Baptists and Southern Baptists across
the country can meet needs and provide assistance to the residents of the city
devastated by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake and aftershocks Jan. 12.
For Gaston, a native of Port-au-Prince, it began with
leading a Haitian woman to faith in Christ while in the airport.
Wilbanks, who directed the Florida convention’s disaster
response in Haiti after five previous hurricanes, will be working with seven
Haitian employees of the convention who survived the earthquake.
have begun assessing damage within their churches and communities.
“These men have been trained in disaster relief by the
Florida Baptist Convention,” said John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer. “They
know their country, their people and have experience responding in the
aftermath of hurricanes. We are grateful to God that they are safe and are
there to minister to the Haitian people.”
Wilbanks reported that the convention-owned mission house is
severely damaged but may be useable.
“This will be among our first rebuild priority,” Sullivan
said, because it will enable volunteer teams for construction and clean-up to
deploy more quickly.
The house, located in Port-au-Prince between the airport and
city, will be the base of operations for the convention’s relief efforts. The
mission house sleeps nearly 50 volunteers at a time and provides food and
safety for mission teams traveling into Haiti.
“We anticipate having a word this week about our churches in
Port-au-Prince as well as our pastors’ homes,” Sullivan added. “These are our
brothers and sisters serving Christ in this difficult nation.”
15-year partnership with Haiti Baptists has resulted in the starting of 892
congregations across the nation.
Bruce Poss, the North American Mission Board’s national
disaster relief coordinator for a year, said he’s “a little nervous but I know
I’m where God wants me to be and doing what God wants me to do. And that’s a
good place to be. I don’t go there alone, but with God’s purpose.”
“I realize it’s dangerous there,” said Poss, referring to
security concerns in Haiti, as evidenced by reported roaming mobs of looters
with machetes and those simply frustrated by the lack of food, water and
medical care — plus the inability to recover and bury the thousands of dead.
“Right now, it’s very chaotic,” Poss said, “and violence is
still on the increase. While more and more military are arriving by the day, we
don’t want to send our volunteers into a place that’s not secure.”
Poss, who worked at Ground Zero in New York City and
remembers the unforgettable stench of death following 9/11, is sure he’ll
witness firsthand similar horrors in Haiti.
The assessment teams are scheduled to spend this week in
Haiti. Returning to Miami, they will be joined by Caison and others to report
their findings and begin mapping out a long-term strategy for a comprehensive
Southern Baptist response to the earthquake.
“Even still in Miami, we hope to set some stuff into motion
with the state disaster relief teams,” Poss said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Denman is director of communications
for the Florida Baptist Convention; Noah writes for the North American Mission