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Action, prayer, Gospel fuel Baptist response to Irma
NASHVILLE (BP) -- With Caribbean islands devastated and hurricane Irma still large enough to charge up both sides of Florida simultaneously, Southern Baptist leaders are exhorting the church to pray, give, go and offer the comfort that only the Holy Spirit affords.
As a Category 5 hurricane, Irma killed at least 11 people, devastated some Caribbean islands and heavily damaged others beginning Tuesday night (Sept. 5), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) reported in daily updates.
Irma's more than 600-mile width is enough to flood the east and west coasts of Florida concurrently when it makes anticipated landfall as a category 4 Sunday (Sept. 10).
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines encouraged Southern Baptists to pray, give and personally go to help those in need.
"As multitudes evacuate Florida due to Hurricane Irma, we call upon all Southern Baptists to pray fervently in faith that the Lord will dissipate this storm and protect Floridians from harm," Gaines told Baptist Press. "We also encourage Southern Baptists to not only pray, but also to give financially to provide relief for all hurricane victims.
"Finally, Southern Baptists must be willing to go to Florida to serve those who suffer loss and harm," Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, said. "As we pray, give and go, the Lord will provide strategic platforms for us to share the Gospel of Christ with lost people."
A multifaceted Southern Baptist response is underway, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities have told BP. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has positioned units in Georgia to move into the affected storm areas in the U.S. as soon as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) signals safety, NAMB said in its Send Relief Bulletin today. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), the Florida Baptist Convention disaster relief and SBDR ministries in multiple states are being activated.
Many Southern Baptist churches in Florida have canceled weekend services and other programs, and are helping members evacuate and prepare for the storm, Mark MacDonald, FBC strategic communication catalyst, told BP. "We pray, watch and prepare," he said.
Southern Baptist partner Baptist Global Response is in touch with churches in the Caribbean and is poised to respond to devastation there, BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told BP.
Irma threatens to stretch Southern Baptist recovery efforts as volunteers are already active in Texas and Louisiana, where Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding and killed more than 70 people.
Hurricane Jose strengthened to a category 4 in the Caribbean today, threatening islands just hit by Irma. In Mexico, a shattering 8.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 32 people when it struck late Thursday (Sept. 7), Reuters reported. In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia is a category 2 and could strike Mexico late tonight or Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center predicted.
Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, affirmed prayer amid what he called "a time of unprecedented damage and natural disaster."
"We are praying right now for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and our prayers expand to include the people of the southeast as it will be impacted by Hurricane Irma," Page told BP when asked about hurricane damage. "Our hearts and prayers also go out to our friends in the Caribbean.
"I've already seen one text from a pastor friend in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands who said that the island has been destroyed. God bless our friends in the Caribbean."
Page expressed assurances from BGR and NAMB of their readiness to act, and encouraged the church to "to look to our Lord and to depend on the fellowship and ministry of fellow believers. God help us all!"
BGR will move assessment teams into the Caribbean this weekend, Palmer told BP on Thursday as the storm continued to move land and sea, taking lives and destroying homes and infrastructure.
"We'll have our initial assessment team on the ground Friday or Saturday," he said, "and we're not sure where we're going to base them yet, because it's a widespread area. We're working very closely with North American Mission Board Send Relief, and coordinating with them to make this a good Southern Baptist response."
Palmer has been in touch with the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship and church leaders in the Dominican Republic, he said, and anticipates the need for much help after the storm.
"Basically in their larger island areas like Antigua, they really were spared by the grace of God," Palmer said. "In smaller places -- Barbuda, the Virgin Islands and St. Martin -- (they) have been hit pretty hard." The BGR is also monitoring Hurricane Jose, Palmer said.
NAMB is managing resources with state SBDR partners to sustain simultaneous responses to Harvey and Irma.
"We are asking SBDR teams and churches with volunteers located east of the Mississippi River to make plans in response to Hurricane Irma needs," NAMB said in its bulletin. "Those located west of the Mississippi River should continue their Hurricane Harvey response.
"We know there will be some exceptions to this geographical division of disaster relief work," NAMB said, "but with two such historic and significant responses needed, this kind of detailed coordination is critical."
NAMB asked state conventions, associations and churches to place all SBDR units on alert for both disasters, focusing also on the needs within their respective states.
The Hurricane Harvey response must continue even in the midst of ramp-up for Irma," NAMB said. "We need every church, association and state convention to be willing to mobilize when needed."