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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Haiti crisis unites Black baptists

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Baptist groups in the United States have launched urgent funding appeals for earthquake relief in Haiti.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has directed more than $15,000 in funds designated for “Haiti Earthquake Response” raised through a Web site appeal, said Chris Boltin, short-term assignments and partnerships manager for the Atlanta-based CBF.

Steve James, a missionary jointly appointed by CBF and American Baptist Churches USA, ministered to earthquake victims this week at a mission clinic located about two miles outside the epicenter near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

James’ wife, Nancy, said missionaries were treating wounded people on tables outdoors until they could find a building safe enough to bring them inside. She said her husband counted nine aftershocks during the course of the day, one strong enough to shake medicine off of the pharmacy shelves.

The Jameses were in the U.S. when the 7.0 magnitude quake struck Jan. 12. They made it back to Haiti Jan. 14, where they decided that he would head into the damage zone with an initial fact-finding team while she went to their home in Haut Limbe, outside the damage zone, so she could answer e-mails and keep in touch with him by phone.

She said her husband and other volunteers with him appreciate prayers and thoughts for them and for the people of Haiti.

“It is a time of stress but they are also glad that they are able to be of help,” she wrote. “Please pray for food, fuel and medicine to arrive soon as their supplies are low. Pray for so many still suffering.” 

Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc, the nation’s largest predominatly African-American Christian denomination, called on the convention’s auxiliaries, boards, commissions, ministries, churches, state conventions and district associations to “work together under the leadership of the Parent Body” for disaster relief.

“By working together, our impact will be multiplied,” Scruggs said. 

Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., said National Baptists were following the recommendations of the USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse, of which the convention is part of, to wait until infrastructure is established before sending in untrained volunteers.

“As the situation in Haiti becomes clearer and more stable over the next several days and weeks, the convention will develop and execute a disaster-relief plan with measurable goals and objectives,” Scruggs said. “In the meantime, we must focus our efforts on raising funds, which ultimately will determine how much assistance we will be able to provide.”

Scruggs said more plans for disaster response would be announced to those attending the convention’s Mid-Winter Board Meeting scheduled for this weekend in Nashville, Tenn. The convention has also established a Haiti Disaster Relief fund for online donations.

The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., another predominantly African-American organization, issued an urgent appeal to member churches for financial contributions to support earthquake victims.

The PNBC has been involved in mission work in Haiti since the 1960s. PNBC president DeWitt Smith and PNBC General Secretary Tyrone Pitts said contributions to the Haitian Relief Fund “will be sent directly to our partners in Haiti and those who are suffering from this horrible tragedy.”

John Raphael, director of the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., another African-American group, prepared to travel to Haiti for a firsthand look at the devastation.

“We believe our mission sites have been destroyed,” convention president Stephen Thurston said in an appeal for donations to the NBCA Relief Fund. “I am appealing for an immediate response on behalf of your church, associations and state conventions to give dollars for the Haitian disaster.”

Thurston said supplies would be transported to Haiti and distributed as part of a joint effort with the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, another historically African-American group. Scruggs said he and the heads of the other major Black Baptist conventions would be visiting Haiti as a group in the near future.

Over the years organizational and philosophical differences divided America’s Black Baptist community into four main organizations. In recent years those groups have held joint meetings, not in view of a merger, but to build relationships for cooperation on common concerns.

Two years ago they were part of a broader movement called the New Baptist Covenant, which seeks to unite all Baptist groups – Black, white and Latino – in North America around consensus concerns.

The Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention is receiving funds to support families affected by the tragedy in partnership with the Strategic Union of Baptist Churches in Haiti, a network of 22 churches and one of Lott Carey’s global partners.

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