BRENTWOOD — David Acres, state Baptist disaster relief director, has visited Haiti two times since the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake there and coordinated Tennessee Baptist response.
He said he agrees with media reports that only about 5 percent of the country has recovered.
The needs are so great, he said, but the country has many problems. For instance, Haiti was being helped by about 42,000 missionaries at the time of the earthquake and many more have served since, he said. The earthquake killed 230,000 residents and left 1.5 million homeless, according to reports. The country has about 8.3 million residents.
Acres said Tennessee Baptists have helped a great deal. They have been involved in three projects, one still ongoing.
The first project was providing Buckets of Hope, of which 14,133 were given by Tennessee Baptists by March 15, 2010. That effort was coordinated by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Each bucket included food items which would feed 6-8 people for a week and $10 for shipping costs.
Next, from March 1 – June 1, 61 state Baptist DR volunteers served with Medishare, a non-governmental agency associated with the University of Miami (Fla.) Hospital.
The hospital operated a temporary surgical hospital somewhat like a M.A.S.H. or Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, said Acres, on an airport runway in Port-au-Prince, the capital.
Tennessee Baptists helped set up and operate a warehouse of supplies for the hospital, explained Acres. They built shelves, organized materials and kept an inventory. DR volunteers in teams of 6-12 stayed a week in less than ideal situations, he said. They lived in tents, ate MREs (meals ready to eat) from the military and used an outdoor shower.
The volunteers started to see their ministry expand as they served, said Acres. Health care workers at the hospital knew the volunteers “were people of faith,” said Acres, so they started asking the Tennesseans to come and pray with a patient. Soon as reports of that opportunity for ministry were received, Acres started sending in DR volunteers who were trained as DR chaplains. They often spent all of their time in the hospital.
The hospital closed down June 1.
As Acres researched the next project of the Tennessee Baptist Convention to help earthquake victims, he learned of a project of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova. Steve Marcum, minister of missions, had a long-time relationship with a former student of his in Indiana, Frank Williams. Williams, a Baptist of Indiana, had developed SMI Haiti (Sundouloi Ministries, Inc.), and has led it for about 14 years. Marcum had received a call from Williams after the earthquake and led Bellevue members to become involved through it.
Acres learned that SMI Haiti and Williams had determined many years ago that it was best to help a small town where governance was mostly controlled by the town and the town chosen was Saint Ard which is located about a two-hour drive from Port-au-Prince.
SMI Haiti, which owns 10 acres in Saint Ard, has led in the building of a medical clinic, orphanage which is home to about 25 children and guest house which can house about 50 volunteers. North Carolina Baptist Men helped build some of the buildings, said Acres.
One great need in Saint Ard, said Acres and Marcum, is to replace/repair a school complex of three buildings, two of which were destroyed by the earthquake. The school had about 1,000 students. After the earthquake they were meeting under trees and a shelter made from tarps. If they quit meeting they would lose their charter, explained Marcum.
In response, the TBC bought a tent and 1,500 chairs and sent them to provide a temporary school, noted Acres. The TBC was assisted by Nashville Tent and Awning which provided the items at a discount. Each Sunday the tent also is used as a church which draws about 1,000 people, reported Marcum. The church building also was destroyed by the earthquake.
Tennessee Baptists have sent two tractor trailers full of needed materials for the building project and are filling the third, said Marcum. Needed are desks, blackboards and other items for a school. Baptist Global Response granted $265,000 to SMI Haiti for the school project.
Marcum hopes to have the school buildings completed in August in time for the new school year.
Tennessee Baptists and other volunteers are helping oversee construction working with Haitian laborers.
Another great need is to build homes. Other volunteers may help train teachers, who only make about $8-10 a month for teaching and have very little training. Volunteers with health care training may serve in the clinic operated by SMI Haiti, said Acres.
About 175 Tennessee Baptists have served in Saint Ard since the fall of 2010, reported Marcum, and about 500 in 30 teams are planned for 2011, he reported.
The project in Saint Ard which is being supported by Tennessee Baptists is being coordinated by Marcum and other staff of Bellevue Baptist. The only expense of a Tennessee Baptist volunteer is airfare and insurance which is about $600-$1,000. The rest is being paid by the TBC.
Marcum said he is very enthused about the project in Saint Ard on many levels. SMI Haiti already had the infrastructure in place. The need, both physical and spiritual, of Haitians is great. He has seen poverty in India and Africa and that in Haiti is as great or greater, he observed.
In Haiti a Baptist can serve in international missions at a low cost, continued Marcum. And finally, a disaster like this opens doors spiritually. Haitians have been involved in voodoo beliefs and help by Christians can teach them about Jesus, he noted.
Though something terrible occurred to Haitians, good can come of it, just as the Scripture teaches, said Marcum.
“The people of Haiti can be reached with the gospel,” said Marcum.
For more information, contact Tennessee Baptist DR at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-558-2090 ext. 7926.