A five-member Southern Baptist assessment team departed for Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 18, to begin the process of evaluating ministry needs in the wake of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the nation of Haiti Jan. 12. The crisis was compounded Jan. 20 by a 5.9 aftershock that terrorized already traumatized Haitians.

The team, which included Bruce Poss, disaster relief coordinator for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Jim Brown of Baptist Global Response, Don Gann and Coy Webb state disaster relief directors for Mississippi and Kentucky, and physician Ralph Shealy, director of the Charleston County, S.C. EMS and professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, planned to either schedule a charter flight into the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince or arrange for ground transportation into the city the next day.

Faced with near insurmountable obstacles—including a small airport jammed with traffic and an unusable port—responders to the disaster scrambled to provide the help the Haitians so desperately need. The assessment team’s role was to meet with Haitian Baptist leaders, identify unmet needs, survey the damage and devise a plan to bring Southern Baptist volunteers and resources into the devastated country.

Also on Jan. 19, a Florida Baptist disaster relief team left for Haiti for its own assessment trip, accompanied by an 11-member medical team from Arkansas.

Members of the two assessment teams were to collaborate in their reporting to the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network after they convened Jan. 26 in Miami, Fla. to set up a long-term, comprehensive plan of projects to help the victims of the quake rebuild their lives.

Florida Baptists, who have had a 15-year partnership with Haitian Baptists, employ six indigenous directors of missions and a missions coordinator in Haiti for the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’ Haiti, along with 15 workers at the convention’s guest house, located about 17 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. The guesthouse is in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, according to Scott Nelson, director of Haitian ministries for the Miami Baptist Association.

Craig Culbreth, director of Florida Baptists’ partnership mission department, who has traveled to Haiti for the past 11 years, reported during national disaster relief conference calls that the guesthouse was essentially OK, except for some damage to a surrounding wall.

During their Haiti partnership, Florida Baptists have helped start almost 900 churches in Haiti. Some 70 of those churches are located in Port-au-Prince. It was reported Jan. 18 that one Haitian pastor, Bienne Lamerique, 56-year-old pastor of Shiloh Church in Port-au-Prince, died of injuries sustained when his house collapsed.

Lamerique’s congregation met in a building that once was a vehicle-repair garage for the United Nations. It is located about a mile from the U.N. building that collapsed in the quake.

IMB missionary Dawn Goodwin, who works with Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, visited Lamerique’s church Jan. 16 with Dominican Baptist leaders who traveled to Port-au-Prince to assess needs of quake survivors. The sanctuary sustained significant damages, but was still standing. Some church members were living in the churchyard, Goodwin—who earlier served 17 years in Haiti—said in a phone interview.

The team also left supplies, including tarps that church members planned to use to shade themselves from the sun during worship services.

First Church of Port-au-Prince, located downtown near Haiti’s collapsed presidential palace, also sustained damage but was still standing, Goodwin said.

As of Jan. 18 about 35 Southern Baptist workers were on the ground in Haiti responding to the disaster, including seven disaster relief-trained indigent pastors and another medical team from North Carolina.

As could be expected, a majority of SBC state convention disaster relief directors said they had volunteers standing by ready to respond to the tragedy in Haiti, once projects are formalized.

“I can assure you the when the ‘dust and rubble clears,’ and the media and all the cameras are gone, then most of the world and the U.S.A. will move on to another story. But, we, as Southern Baptists, plan to be there for several months assisting in being the hands and feet of Jesus to make an eternal impact in the lives of those who are hurting,” said Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

“Our main means of ministry will be working alongside those Haitian churches strengthening them, helping them deal with their grief, and loss. We will need various types of skills, and it will be a very difficult type of work. Hot and humid living in very uncomfortable conditions. Every volunteer must be healthy to assist the cause and not become a liability.”

Porter urged Oklahoma Baptists to pray for the victims and for those responding to the disaster. He also asked Oklahoma Baptists to consider carefully as to where they donate their hard-earned funds.

“One hundred percent of every donated dollar (we receive) goes to relief efforts,” he stressed. “Not one penny goes for administration. My salary and all of our office expenses come from Cooperative Program funds. All disaster relief donations make an impact for the victims of disasters and recovery efforts. Every SBC worker is a pure ‘unpaid’ volunteer!”

Oklahoma Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, 3800 N. May Ave., Oklahoma City 73112.