Baptists in the South American country of Chile have been devastated by a massive earthquake that hit the country on February 27.
The 8.8 temblor, one of the strongest in recorded history, destroyed 250 Baptist churches that are affiliated with the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile (UBACH), one of two Baptist World Alliance (BWA) member bodies in the country.
“All the Baptist churches in the disaster zone were either badly damaged or destroyed,” Raquel Contreras, president of UBACH, told the BWA. “There are pastors living in tents. 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,” said Contreras, who is also a vice president of the BWA. Members of the teams wept upon seeing the scale of the disaster, Contreras reported.
There is a sense of fear in the country. “People do not feel secure,” said Contreras, the immediate past president of the Union of Baptists in Latin America, one of six regional fellowships of the BWA. “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 Kentucky with her daughter when the earthquake struck, is anxious to return to Chile, but cannot do so due to difficulties in travelling into the country.
The reports she received, however, indicate that a massive reconstruction and rebuilding effort will have to take place.
One concern is for the spiritual state of the Chilean people in this time of disaster. 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 to demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ.
Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the BWA, is sending US$25,000 (about $35,200) in relief funds to Chile.