Posted on : Monday March 1, 2010

By Baptist Press Staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists are moving quickly to assess relief needs in the aftermath of an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile at 3:34 a.m. Saturday, killing at least 120 people, collapsing buildings and setting off a tsunami.

Prayer is urgently needed for thousands of people in Chile whose lives have been upturned by a massive earthquake that struck in the early morning hours of Feb. 27, says an International Mission Board strategist closely tied to the area.

“We want to ask Christians everywhere to lift up people in need after this huge disaster,” said Terry Lassiter, strategist for the American Peoples affinity group. “We thank the Lord that all of our missionaries are well but there has been a very significant loss of life that is going to affect both our church community and the non-Christian community in Chile.”

The earthquake toppled homes, collapsed bridges and plunged vehicles into the great cracks in the ground, according to news reports. A tsunami alert has been issued for every country around the Pacific Ocean — roughly a quarter of the earth. The death toll is expected to rise quickly.

“It was a terrifying experience,” said Phil Brown, a Southern Baptist missionary who lives in Santiago. “We were awakened by our bed shaking so hard it almost threw us out. We live in a second floor apartment but ran to our outdoor terrace, ready to jump if the building started coming apart, which we feared it would.

“After the longest 90 seconds of my life, the shaking stopped. We got outside as quickly as we could to huddle in the street with the other people in our building,” Brown added. “God was gracious in protecting all of our missionary family here. Hours have passed now but we are still jumpy. Each tremor now gets our full attention.”

Disaster relief specialists from South Carolina and California are on standby to respond, said Jim Brown, director of the U.S. office for Baptist Global Response, the International Mission Board’s primary partner in disaster relief situations.

“I’m in conversation with those leaders and we will decide within the next 12 hours what our initial response will be,” Brown said. “If our ministry partners on the ground in Chile request it, we will have an assessment team on the way immediately. BGR is working closely with the International Mission Board and its extensive network of national partners, including on-ground partners in Chile who will be able to help respond immediately with the basic necessities.”

The epicenter was located just 70 miles from Concepcion, a city of more than 200,000 people, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. A tsunami wave struck the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles off the Chilean coast and tsunami warnings have been issued for Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Chile’s president, Michele Bachelet, declared a “state of catastrophe” in three central regions of the country. Several hospitals were evacuated and communications with Concepcion were knocked out.

“We know that immediate needs usually include things like food, water, shelter and medical needs,” Brown said. “We have emergency response funds available to help with the crisis response. Southern Baptists always respond quickly when a disaster like this strikes. They pray and give from the heart. We’re glad to know so many people who care are ready to spring into action to help people in need.”

In the chaos that follows a disaster like this, God’s people need clarity of mind, Lassiter added.

“There will be a lot of things missionaries and local believers can do in a situation like this,” he said. “We’re just praying the Lord will lead them to do the best thing for the short term and also keep a focus on the long term. People will be stressed and wanting to respond to needs. Please pray for calm spirits as we respond to this tragedy.”

The ultimate concern is that God will be glorified and hearts will be turned to Christ, Lassiter said.

“Please pray God will be glorified in a way that people will see their need for Him, if they don’t know Him,” Lassiter said. “We don’t know yet how big of a disaster this is, but we want to see God glorified among the Chilean people in any case.”

Lassiter said that he is thankful Southern Baptists and their extensive network of ministry partners around the world are able to respond quickly to disasters and meet needs immediately.

“It’s great to be part of an organization that cares for people’s spiritual and physical needs and is positioned to respond all over the world,” Lassiter said. “This earthquake is another wake-up call to us in the U.S., just like the recent Haiti tragedy. We are so very thankful Southern Baptists care deeply about people in need and will respond from the heart.”

IMB will be monitoring developments and will issue further announcements about needs and response as more information becomes available.

Submitted by the international bureau of Baptist Press. Donations may be directed to the International Mission Board at Every dollar given will be used 100 percent in relief efforts conducted in partnership with local Baptist churches.