September 1, 2015

Adventists Help Lead Relief Effort on U.S. Pacific Island

, with reporting by NAD staff

Seventh-day Adventist volunteers are helping oversee the distribution of disaster relief on the typhoon-battered western Pacific island of Saipan at the request of the U.S. government and a nonprofit organization.

Typhoon Soudelor destroyed more than 1,000 homes and damaged thousands of others on Aug. 2 when it slammed into Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory.

While no one was killed in the storm, many of the island’s 48,000 residents remain without electricity four weeks later, and about half have only limited access to running water.

A four-member team of relief workers from the Adventist Church’s North American Division flew to Saipan last week to set up and manage a distribution warehouse at the invitation of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, which handles disaster response, and the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that builds resiliency in U.S. communities.

Local government officials gave the Adventist Community Services volunteers space to set up the warehouse, and a group of teen volunteers from AmeriCorps, a community service group, unloaded the first delivery of donated goods on Aug. 27.

“The donations were then quickly sorted and made available to all humanitarian agencies working on the island for distribution,” said Dan Weber, communication director for the North American Division, who accompanied the team to Saipan, located about 120 miles (190 kilometers) north of Guam.

Adventist Community Services also bought cleaning supplies and butane fuel locally and passed them out to 500 families though a temporary distribution center at the Saipan Adventist Dental Clinic. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency participated in the initiative.

In another program, Adventist Community Services teamed up with the Southern Baptist Disaster Response organization to operate a mobile food distribution center.

Local church members are helping with the distribution of the much-needed items.

Sean Robinson, director of Adventist Community Services’ disaster response team for North America, said the response of grateful residents was overwhelming.

“Sometimes we do not realize just how many people are relying on our service and ministry,” he said.

The other volunteers from the U.S. mainland are Charlene Sargent, Adventist Community Services’ director for the Pacific Union Conference; and Cathy Kissner, the organization’s director for the Rocky Mountain Conference.

The visiting team trained their island counterparts, including pastor Matt Mattzela of the Saipan Central Adventist Church and Dr. Warren Creed of the Adventist dental clinic, to take over management of the warehouse. Creed also was elected chair of the local Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster and will work with other Saipan-based humanitarian agencies to provide organized relief efforts over the coming months.