Close to 25 Florida counties are under a state of emergency as Hurricane Ian approaches from the Caribbean, sending first-responders and disaster relief agencies into full readiness for its anticipated landfall later this week.
But as the U.S. awaits the arrival of Ian, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is laying the groundwork to address the damage and suffering its predecessor, Hurricane Fiona, caused in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico last week.
CBF leaders began with appeals for prayer and donations in response to Fiona while awaiting to learn the physical, spiritual and emotional needs from its from Caribbean partners.
The response also includes the usual reminder to church groups and media that CBF is not a first responder but a long-term ally and supporter of communities devastated by catastrophe.
Daynette Snead Perez, the Fellowship’s manager of U.S. disaster response, said CBF and its state group in Florida are taking steps to help lay the logical infrastructure for long-term recovery in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“Currently, CBF leadership is assessing the needs on the ground with network partner Iglesias Bautista de Puerto Rico, who will help us formulate a strategy for long-term recovery,” she said. “It is too soon to narrow the response. We recognize a critical need for medical, spiritual, emotional, mental and elder-care support.”
The process will take time, she added. “Response to the islands is more complicated than on the mainland. In many instances, it will require containers of supplies to be shipped to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.”
But Snead Perez said the relatively quiet Atlantic hurricane season that preceded Fiona and Ian helped churches affiliated with the Fellowship prepare cleanup supplies for disaster response.
“CBF church affiliates in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky engaged in the 1,000 Flood Bucket Challenge in 2022 and built over 1,800 flood buckets,” she explained. “This effort prepared East Coast affiliates for the upcoming hurricane season. Witnessing how CBF states and regions have generously participated has been helpful. The effort shortened the response time to the Kentucky flooding and will continue to serve affected areas for the remainder of the 2022 hurricane season.”
In the meantime, the Fellowship turned to its CBF Blog to raise awareness of the urgent spiritual and financial needs shared by Fiona’s Caribbean victims.
CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley called for “prayer for all those in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, particularly our partner congregations in Puerto Rico. … Five years ago, Hurricane Maria devastated that island, and now another storm has struck.”
Cooperative Baptists should also “prayerfully consider giving so that we can offer needed relief in the days ahead,” Baxley said.
The article included comments from Xiomara Reboyras Ortiz, pastor of Comunidad Cristiana Nurevo in DeLand, Fla. “In our congregation, we have already started the conversation to help in any possible way, but I know we will need help from our bigger (CBF) family.”
Reboyras Ortiz shared news from a mission house in the Dominican Republic that partners with her congregation. More than 20 people, including children and pregnant women, sought refuge with the ministry as Fiona raged.
“‘The house was not ready for this many people, but we will do all we can to ensure people are safe. This community lives in shacks. This morning they were served spaghetti for breakfast because it was a long night,’” she said.
Reboyras Ortiz also called for spiritual action in response to the storm. “Please keep Sabana de la Mar and Hogar Arcoiris in your prayers. They have a long day ahead before recovery starts.”
Tammy Snyder, executive director of Florida CBF, said in the CBF Blog article that Florida churches and ministries will be dedicated to long-term recovery.
“Our prayers for our familia are for comfort and healing as they assess their losses and begin to pull their communities, homes and lives back together,” Snyder said. “May God sustain them through this present disaster and throughout the restoration and rebuilding. CBF Florida and Caribbean Islands commit to being present for you in every way.”
Snead Perez asked for patience from volunteers eager to engage in disaster response ministry in the wake of Fiona.
“The best way to join our disaster response efforts is through financial donations, allowing CBF to address specific community needs. We are committed to listening first to those who are experiencing a disaster,” she said. “We invite everyone to pray for the safety and security of survivors and responders during this time of repair and recovery. In Christ, we will equip survivors and the communities they serve.”