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Plans firm up for Alabama Baptists to adopt Jacmel area in Haiticomment (0)

April 8, 2010

By Grace Thornton

Visiting Haiti was everything you’ve seen on TV and then some, said Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists.

“You can’t begin to imagine the level of devastation that’s there,” he said.

But the Jan. 12 earthquake that claimed a quarter of a million lives in Haiti also opened up “so many doors of ministry,” Johnson said. “The people there are open to the gospel and are eager to hear.”

In the face of such great need, Alabama Baptists have decided to adopt the area of Jacmel, a town about two-and-a-half hours from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city and the city closest to the quake’s epicenter.

“Jacmel and the surrounding villages have received a tremendous amount of refugees fleeing the earthquake zone,” said Johnson, who took an assessment team to the area in mid-March. “The population of that area probably doubled or more.”

Because of the sweeping effects of the earthquake, state Baptists will be needed for a variety of missions opportunities in Jacmel in the coming weeks and months. Trained volunteers will be called up to go, and individuals and churches interested in organizing teams can be trained for their specific assignments, too.

The needs include
• Deconstruction teams. These volunteers would help with cleanup and debris removal in damaged areas.

• Help for orphanages and working with children.

• Limited construction teams. “There will be some need for teams to come alongside locals and help with the rebuild process,” Johnson said.

• Medical teams. Alabama Baptists are continuing to partner with Baptist Health System to meet medical needs in the area, with another team going out April 10. Hospitals in the Jacmel area were badly damaged, and much support is still needed there, Johnson said.

Though all the work done in Haiti will be vital to the nation’s recovery, it will “not just be life supporting but also soul sustaining,” he said.

Though the people there are hungry for God and eager for the gospel, other things are vying for the souls of Haitians, a traditionally voodoo people.

“Prior to the quake, there was almost no Islamic influence in Haiti, but now they are making a major push into Haiti and publicizing themselves in a huge way,” Johnson said.

Muslims are now there working alongside other aid organizations to hand out tents and provisions and talk to the people in Haiti about their faith.

“We are in a race for souls there in Haiti, and we are asking Alabama Baptists to respond in a big way,” he said.

Ways to respond include:

• Chaplaincy ministries.

• Prayer or even prayer walking. Johnson noted that the Islamic presence is a specific concern for prayer.

• Evangelism and discipleship.

• Church planting. Church plants have been taking root since the quake, with 90 people professing new faith in Christ  in the last month at one Jacmel-area church plant alone.

“Our effort will be to work through the local churches and help build them up,” Johnson said. “The sites we have identified (for ministry work) have all been sites where churches have been established or are sites for potential church plants. ... We are doing disaster relief work down there, but it is also front-line missions.”

While in Haiti, the assessment team was able to set up transportation, housing and translators for future missions teams.

An Alabama Baptist disaster relief coordinator will also be on the ground in Haiti meeting teams as they arrive and making arrangements for their work, Johnson said.

“We will be rotating the people in that position in and out, because it’s a very taxing atmosphere,” he said.

Gary Walker, a member of the assessment team and pastor of Riddles Bend Baptist Church, Rainbow City, encouraged volunteers to respond and pray for the process as things are being set up for work in Jacmel.

“There’s a great need for volunteers to go to work there,” said Walker, who coordinated Alabama Baptists’ partnership with Zone 6 in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to Walker and Johnson, the team included Gary Cardwell, director of missions for Etowah Baptist Association, and Lloyd Williams, a member of First Baptist Church, Montgomery.

For more information about how to help the Haiti recovery effort or serve in Jacmel, visit www.alsbom.org/haiti.

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