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(BWA) – Baptists in Chile have been devastated by a massive earthquake that affected that country on Feb. 27.

An 8.8-magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest in recorded history, destroyed 250 Baptist churches that are affiliated with the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile, or UBACH, one of two Baptist World Alliance (BWA) member bodies in the South American country.

“All the Baptist churches in the disaster zone were either badly damaged or destroyed,” according to Raquel Contreras, president of UBACH and a vice president of BWA. “There are pastors living in tents,” she said. “Many Baptist members lost everything.”

Two teams of pastors visited the affected areas, and what they saw was “like a scene from World War Two,” Contreras said. Members of the teams wept upon seeing the scale of the disaster, she said.

There is a sense of fear in the country. “People do not feel secure,” Contreras said. “Pastors are scared because of the strong aftershocks.”

At least 500,000 homes are estimated to be damaged, and more than 700 people were killed.

Contreras, who was visiting with her daughter in Kentucky when the earthquake struck, is anxious to return to Chile but cannot because of the difficulties in traveling into the country. The reports she received, however, indicate that a massive reconstruction and rebuilding effort will have to take place not just generally, but for Baptists in particular.

Pastors, she said, will be challenged to explain the tragedy to the people, but recounted that there are stories of faith in the midst of the suffering. Contreras explained that this is an opportunity for Christians – and Baptists in particular – to demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ.

Baptist World Aid, the BWA’s relief and development arm, is sending $25,000 in relief funds to Chile.

Donations may be made via the BWA Web site or sent to: Baptist World Aid, 405 N. Washington St., Falls Church, VA 22046.

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