At least 522 Adventists Known
Dead in Haiti Earthquake
55 churches destroyed, 60 more damaged; 27,000 members are homeless
BY LIBNA LIZARDO STEVENS, Inter-America Division, reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
n the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake that struck ten miles west of the Haitian capital, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are tallying the grim human toll.
Top Seventh-day Adventist leaders in Haiti reported that, so far as it is known, the 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed 522 church members, the vast majority young people. More than 55 churches were destroyed, 60 churches partially damaged and some 27,000 church members left homeless in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The official report came as local leaders met with top church leaders of the Inter-American Division on January 20. It took leaders one week to account for their ministers, church employees, members, and churches in the wake of the temblor’s aftermath, which left leaders virtually without communication for a few days.
"This is very, very sad," said Sylvan Blaise, president of the church in the Central region of Port-au-Prince where the effects of the quake were the worst and where 300 members lost their lives. Among the dead were 14 who were in choir practice when the roof and walls of Adventist Temple No.1 near the Presidential Palace collapsed on them. Other choir members were able to escape.
"We have more than 12,000 church members who lost their homes and were left with only the garments they were wearing and nothing else," he said. Blaise, whose home suffered damage and left him and his family sleeping outside his home, also reported that more than 300 members were injured. The thousands left homeless are taking shelter on the grounds of the 50 habitable churches and centers in the 30 districts in the Central Haiti Conference. Several schools were destroyed and damaged.
Some 220 members in the South Haiti Mission were reported dead, according to Pastor Jean Bernard Banatte, mission president. Two members died when a church fell down on them. There, some 15,000 church members were displaced, four schools destroyed, an Adventist Book store destroyed, and about 280 injured. Twelve churches were destroyed and 30 more received extensive damage, reported Banatte.
Leaders reported that among the dead were 450 young people.
"We are saddened for the members we lost in this tragedy and yet are so thankful that the Lord spared you, and the number of the deaths were not greater," said Pastor Israel Leito, president of the Inter-America Division, as he spoke with top local church leaders in Port-au-Prince. "We were so afraid for you and our church members when we couldn't hear from you," he added.
Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer of the church in Inter-America, joined Leito in the meeting. Together they visited affected Adventist institutions, offered guidance in attending to the members affected, began the process of assessing damaged churches, established plans for the flow of relief funds, planned the rebuilding of churches and coordinated with efforts the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) as the agency aids in the relief efforts of approximately 20,000 on the campus of the Haiti Adventist University.
"The world church wants to know how the church has been affected in Haiti and the world church is here to help you," said Pastor Leito.
As of the week of January 18, the North American Division promised $500,000 in tithe and the General Conference $200,000 to be used to aid the Adventist Church in Haiti. In addition, the North American Division has donated $175,000 non-tithe funds and other divisions have pledged a total of $150,000. In North America, Adventist Churches were expected to collect a special offering for Haitian Adventists on Feb. 6, 2010.
"The church has not abandoned you, we are with you in this and so we must organize well our system here to manage these funds and rebuild our churches and take care of our church workers and members as well," added Leito.
"We thank God that He took care of most of our people," said Theart Saint-Pierre, president of the church in Haiti. "Everyone is traumatized, yet we praise God for His goodness." Saint-Pierre added the loss of their publishing director last week and the daughter of a church worker in the Northwest Haiti Mission saddened them. The union office received some damage to its structure and will need to be evaluated for safety.
Church leaders in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, have been helping in the coordination of relief supplies through non-government agencies. Arrangements are being made now to provide food and other supplies to the thousands of church members taking refuge on church grounds.
"After hearing the magnitude of the denominational losses, what we must assess is the property damage to all our churches and institutions," said Verduzco. "It is also very important that our financial system is working properly here to channel the funds."
"Our main concern is to take care of their basic needs, yet we need to move fast and work on rebuilding our temples," said Pastor Leito.
For now, church leaders in Haiti said that last Sabbath the church's Radio Esperance conducted a special church service. Church members will be meeting in small groups while pastors from other unaffected church regions will join the pastoral force in the city to minister and offer spiritual support, leaders said.
During the 2-hour meeting with church leaders, there were growing concerns with the extensive damage the Adventist University received to its buildings and the management of the 20,000 people taking refuge on campus.
ADRA International and ADRA Inter-America, along with ADRA Haiti, began coordinating relief efforts through their assessment team just hours after the earthquake struck.
"The ADRA team came with 24 people and other NGOs joined our convoy," said Wally Amundson, ADRA Inter-America director, who arrived in the Dominican Republic within two days of the quake and crossed the border into Haiti.
"We helped the hospital during the early stages to organize and transport medical doctors into Haiti," said Amundson. ADRA moved quickly to establish water purification systems, distribute food and relief supplies, and oversee the refugees on campus, he added.
"The whole world has wept for Haiti, the Adventist World Church has wept for Haiti," said Charles Sandefur, ADRA International president, to church leaders. "I am happy that ADRA is able to respond to humanitarian need here. ADRA is going to be here for the long run to partner with you through this."
Sandefur said that some donors from around the world are willing to commit to helping the people in Haiti: "We want to focus our humanitarian efforts right here on campus with the thousands on the grounds and surrounding the campus. It will be complicated and will take much energy but by God's grace we will do it."
So far, churches across North America collected a special offering of over $1 million on Jan. 16 to benefit the efforts of ADRA in Haiti. These funds and the support of a network of 14 countries will help in the humanitarian efforts ADRA will be managing here, added Sandefur.
The Adventist Hospital, which is within minutes from the university, did not receive major damage to its building. Following the quake, medical teams resumed some operations outdoors. In spite of that, medical activities have continued non-stop, said medical director Dr. Lesly Archer.
"We have been working 24 hours to assist patients," he said.
Medical teams have now been coming in to help care for the nearly 400 patients staying outside on hospital grounds in makeshift tents and the new patients arriving everyday, said Dr. Archer.
Dr. Elie Honore, health ministries director for the church in Inter-America, immediately after the quake hit requested the help of Loma Linda University Hospital and Florida Hospital to coordinate doctors and channel medical supplies into the hospital.
"We are thankful for all the physicians who have poured in to help us here," said Dr. Archer. "Our greatest need right now is for orthopedic surgeons and anesthesiologists."
Seventh-day Adventist leaders in Inter-America are committed to supporting the church and its organizations in Haiti from here on.
"We will continue to support and reaffirm our church with regular visits here," said Pastor Leito. "The one thing we strive in circumstances like these is for people to feel that they have a value, that they are not just thrown aside."