October 19, 2017

Inter-American Church Creates New Committee to Coordinate Disaster Relief

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Inter-American Division (IAD) church region began coordinating disaster relief assistance for the affected territory devastated by the natural disasters which hit last month. Multiple earthquakes have hit ten of the 24 major church regions across the IAD in Mexico and multiple hurricanes across the string of islands in the Caribbean.

“We have never had so much of our territory affected by natural disasters in just a few weeks,” said IAD president Israel Leito. “Churches, schools and member’s homes have been devastated, and restoring those will help the process of rebuilding lives.”

With the initial emergency funds already released to assist the church membership across the unions, in addition to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) funds assisting those in the community outside the church, top church leaders want to ensure that church members get the help they need as fast as possible, explained Leito.

To help guarantee this takes place, a special committee was established to alleviate human suffering and protect the lives and dignity of church members who experience a disaster.

The purpose of the committee is to look at providing relief for Seventh-day Adventists in the areas of the division affected by natural disasters, said IAD vice president James Daniel, who chairs the IAD Disaster Relief for Church Members Committee.

“Seventh-day Adventists must know that the highest level of the church cares about them and that the church is taking actions to demonstrate that care,” said Daniel.

Complications in the logistics of shipping and receiving basic needs to the most critical islands like Puerto Rico and the English-speaking Caribbean islands that are without power delayed such relief for days, said Daniel. A few days ago, however, the committee was able to send palettes of water, food, relief supplies and generators by air cargo from Miami.

A container full of tarps, generators, water, food and other supplies was also shipped this week from Miami to St. Croix, the most affected islands neighboring the Virgin Islands.

Also, funds were released to ship a container of water and relief supplies to Dominica and its neighboring islands of St. Lucia and another one out of Barbados, Daniel reported.

Church employees at the IAD Office in Miami, Florida, took time for several days during the week to purchase, collect and package relief supplies to be delivered to the various shipping companies.

“This was just the critical needs to a few of those islands that our committee took on, but the administration is making other financial decisions to continue assisting the membership,” said Daniel.

The committee is also looking at Phase 2, which looks at ways to help members move back into their homes, moving out of shelters, said Daniel. “Phase 3 will be the housing phase to help rebuild their lives.”

“This assistance is more than an immediate one, it’s a long-term investment on the part of the organization,” said Daniel. “Our effort is ongoing because the disaster recovery will be an extensive process.”

Church leaders are not only looking at the material needs of church members but the spiritual and psychological needs as well.

“After the storm, many people have no jobs to go to, they cannot withdraw money because banks are not functioning, supplies are limited, their homes are destroyed, they are displaced from their homes, so we are looking at those needs as well.”

The committee will continue working with the unions who in turn assess the needs of their churches through their conferences and local mission territories, said Daniel.

Adventist Churches across the territory have also responded to helping affected islands. Churches in Grenada collected enough supplies to ship a 40-foot container to the North Caribbean Conference, headquartered in St. Croix. The supplies will be re-directed to surrounding islands in need.

Adventist Churches in the South Caribbean Conference, stationed in Trinidad shipped 17 large palettes of water, toiletry items, food, medical supplies and more to assist people in Dominica.

“Our members care for one another, and we will work to continue assisting church members through this process of rebuilding their lives,” Daniel said.