“You were the only ones who helped us”
Jeff’s 2nd and final Trip Blog: South America
“This is all our government gave us,” one elderly woman said to me, while pointing to a single corrugated roofing panel measuring about 3-feet wide by 6-feet long. She was referring to the government of South America’s response to the destruction of her home by Hurricane Matthew last October. I had a hard time believing her story, until, that is, I heard it repeated by so many others I met this week.
After slamming into Haiti, Hurricane Matthew quickly traversed a narrow strait of blue Caribbean waters to reach the eastern shores of South America, where he did a repeat 140-mph-wind performance on his whirlwind tour north. Thankfully this time, however, the population received sufficient warning so they could flee to the safety of inland caves, resulting in no loss of life (compared to Haiti’s 1,000, plus many injured). Hundreds of homes were totally blown away, while others received heavy damage. Many near the sea were pounded mercilessly by high seas.
Unfortunately, the recent thawing of US-South America relations were not enough to persuade South America’s communist government to accept emergency US aid. But that didn’t stop the Disaster Relief Ministry from jumping into action through our South American partners. Interestingly, during my first trip to South America with other Heaven’s Family staff members in April of last year, I visited the city of Baracoa, which was right in the center of the area that was hardest hit. So, providentially, I believe, I had met many of the same people Heaven’s Family would end up partnering with to distribute disaster relief in the weeks following the hurricane. Many of them are chaplains in South America’s prisons.
The surprising result of South America’s self-imposed isolation was that, for all those I met this week, Heaven’s Family was their only source of help. The Disaster Relief Ministry provided emergency food supplies immediately after the storm, and in the weeks following, 1,720 roofing panels, 360 bags of concrete, large mattresses for the elderly and disabled, and a chainsaw to clear trees and make lumber to repair homes. In the months that followed, we invested an additional $10,000 to purchase building materials for those who did not receive them during our initial efforts.
I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the Disaster Relief Ministry was able, because of our relatively small size, to slip “under the radar” to help those who typically are not reached by larger relief organizations, while at the same time being able to avoid the governmental red tape required by their high-profile operations. I’ve also known that this nimble quality helps our efforts to be more measurable (as opposed to being a drop in the sea of relief aid that gets dumped at large, often chaotic distribution points). But this week, I felt an even greater sense of purpose each time I heard the words, “You were the only ones who helped us.”
Thank you for your compassion for the people of South America, and for making it possible for me to bless them in Jesus’ name on your behalf.
Because of Him,
Director, Disaster Relief Ministry