When a massive earthquake struck the nation of Chile February 27, Chilean Baptists knew what to do. A network of Baptist churches involved in social ministries (Red de Testimonio Social Bautista) had studied earthquake preparedness at a conference during the past year, according to Raquel Contreras, president of the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile. Members of the network received training from government workers during the conference, and sprang into action when the 8.8 magnitude temblor hit.
About 250 of the country’s 500-plus Baptist churches are located in the 400-mile stretch of Chile that suffered the most damage. Virtually all of the church buildings received significant damage, and many will have to be leveled and rebuilt, Contreras said. No Chilean Baptists are known to be among the hundreds who died, but many had feared death. Contreras, who was in Kentucky helping a daughter with wedding plans at the time of the quake, said “Every person I have talked to there has said the same thing: ‘I thought I was going to die.'”
Contreras, who had been unable to return to her home in Santiago because of damage to the airport, attended a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), which she serves as a vice-president, March 8-10. She was scheduled to fly home on March 12. The first call she received after the quake was from her son, who lives with her in a sixth-floor apartment in Santiago. Afterward, she said, “My phone started going crazy” with calls.
On March 7, Contreras said, churches that were able to hold services were packed. In a time when many people are frightened, “we need wisdom for how best to share the gospel,” she said.
Chilean Baptists also need money maximize recovery ministries. Chile’s new president, Michelle Bachelet, has been slow to welcome foreign aid workers, but Chilean Baptists could do much if they had more resources, Contreras said. “We need money to buy supplies: diapers, milk, nails, cement.”
While Baptists were not known to be among the dead, many lost their homes and are living in tents. Even homes that remain standing are considered unsafe. “They are calling it the ‘liar earthquake,'” Contreras said: “houses that look OK on the outside are filled with cracks on the inside.”
Several pastors have expressed feelings of distress and fear, she said. They are keeping their cars parked in the open, stocked with food and water. In months to come, Chilean Baptists will need help with emotional counseling as well as physical rebuilding, Contreras said.
While relief poured into Haiti following that country’s smaller but more devastating earthquake, assistance has been slower to arrive in Chile. In speaking to the BWA’s executive committee in Falls Church, Va., Contreras acknowledged the needs in Haiti but also appealed for prayers and for aid.
The BWA sent $25,000 in immediate assistance to Chile, and has established a fund to collect donations for additional assistance. Paul Montecute, director of the BWA’s aid program, said more than $600,000 had been raised in a similar fund for relief work in Haiti. “We know more is in the pipeline,” Montecute said, and “We need to do likewise for Chile.”