TALCA, Chile — Exhausted
from traveling through south-central Chile to assess earthquake damage, a team
of Southern Baptist and Chilean Baptist leaders bedded down on the floor of La
Iglesia Bautista El Sembrador (Baptist Church of the Sower) in Talca. The next
morning they discovered they were in exactly the right place to make
significant connections to help with future relief work.
The region of Maule, where Talca is the capital, has been in a state of
emergency — a condition that temporarily puts the Chilean military in charge —
since the 8.8-magnitude earthquake Feb. 27.
Just blocks away from the church where the team had slept was a Chilean army
post. Because of their proximity, the assessment team decided to visit the
military compound to discuss relief efforts. Team members Charles Clark and
Scott Brawner of the International Mission Board and Chilean Baptist Bernardino
Morales were able to meet with two Chilean army colonels — Edmundo Villarroel
and Fernando Morales.
The Chilean officials invited Southern Baptists to adopt “sister cities” in
Maule, one of the areas hardest hit by the quake and resulting tsunami. Maule’s
rural communities and parts east toward the Andes Mountains have received less
attention because of the misperception they are less affected, said Clark, an
IMB missionary who serves as strategy leader for the part of South America that
Adopting a city means a team of Southern Baptist missionaries and Chilean
Baptists will plan multiple visits there to identify needs and guide quake
relief involving Baptist volunteers. The goal will be to share the gospel and
Details of the “sister city” program are still being finalized, but information
about how to be involved will be announced soon, Clark said.
Discussions with the army colonels also paved the way for officials from
Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development
organization, and volunteers from South Carolina and Texas to expand their
A food preparation training team from the South Carolina Baptist Convention
currently is working with Chilean Baptists in the Maule region. Additional
volunteers from South Carolina and from the Southern Baptists of Texas
Convention also are heading to Chile during the coming week. Clark and others
on the assessment team are pleased with the progress they’ve made.
“I came (to Maule) with no preset agenda other than coming to identify what the
situation is on the ground — what the needs are and how we can address those
needs,” Clark said. “I am very pleased that within 24 hours we have an outline
in place for a plan to go forward.”
During the team’s visit to the military compound, they saw a gymnasium filled
with tables where Chilean leaders — both military and civilian — were working
to deliver resources as reports of need came in from the Maule region. Soon,
Southern Baptist disaster relief personnel will staff their own table in this
gym, where they will serve as a resource for meeting needs across Maule.
“You know what’s amazing?” Brawner said after the visit to the military post. “No
one else — secular or Christian — has gone in there like that. They (the
military) greeted us with joy that we would come in there to them. God granted
us favor in their eyes…. They’ll connect us with leaders. That’s influence.
Because of this connection, supplies funded by Southern Baptist donations to
the relief effort may be delivered to communities in Chile via Chilean military
helicopters, Clark added.
“They become a good source of the big picture,” Clark said of the Chilean army
leaders. “They’re a source of information for what’s happening and a conduit
for large projects. They make it possible to facilitate getting aid to the
In addition to the Chilean military, the assessment team met with several top
civil leaders in the region, including Maule’s governor, a regional health
official and several mayors.
From these meetings, the team learned that the region’s greatest needs are for
food distribution, emergency housing and medical supplies. The relationships
with these officials also will provide valuable information and access as
Southern Baptists and Chilean Baptists work to meet needs in the area.
“The influence of the church is growing,” Brawner said.
Later in the day, assessment team members traveled to the Maule city of
Pencahue as a follow-up to a meeting with its mayor. While visiting with
officials, the team decided to include Pencahue among those to be “adopted” by
Southern Baptist and Chilean Baptist churches.
Pencahue has a population of
9,000, spread across 386 square miles. Though the city is suffering just as
much as its neighbors, the thinly spread population means it may be overlooked
by major relief efforts, officials said.
As relief efforts get under way, one of the best ways Southern Baptist churches
can help is “to commit to an adopted city for three to five years,” Clark said,
noting that churches and individual Southern Baptists also can get involved by
praying, donating to relief efforts and volunteering.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the
Americas. Donations to Southern Baptist Chilean relief may be made at
http://www.imb.org, click on the Chile quake response graphic. One hundred
percent of each donation goes to meet human needs. Updated prayer requests can
be viewed at imb.org/pray.)