By Sarah Schafer
“This event in Chile is far worse than ever imagined,” said Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of Disaster Response with LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), who arrived in Chile March 19 with WR-HC’s Rev. Carlos Hernandez to assess earthquake damages with leaders of the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile (IELCHI).
The death toll has reached 800 since the Feb. 27 earthquake and tsunami, and an estimated 500,000 homes were destroyed. In March, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet reported that rebuilding could take up to three years and cost as much as $30 billion.
Rev. Carlos Schumann, president of the 200-some member IELCHI, said in an earlier e-mail to Synod President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick that its members, pastors, and facilities were safe following the 8.8 magnitude quake.
“While already committing human and fiscal resources to relief and rebuilding in Haiti, we stand ready to be of assistance in any way possible in the aftermath of this very powerful earthquake in your country,” Kieschnick responded.
In the coastal town of Constitución, near the epicenter, four tsunami waves, one reaching 30 feet, washed away the first six to eight blocks of beachfront property. Merritt said military divers searched Monday for more than 300 people still missing — many who were attending a party on an island peninsula as the waves hit.
Upwards of 2,500 displaced Chileans are living in six-by-eight-foot wooden structures at one government-run refugee camp in the coastal city. In the weeks following the earthquake, IELCHI pastors have gone door-to-door in these camps, assessing how people are doing and identifying what aid is needed.
“There is no water, no sanitation, no power, and not adequate food,” said Merritt of one emergency camp in Constitución. LCMS WR-HC, in partnership with the IELCHI, will explore beginning a feeding program at the camp and providing limited electrical services to each structure. Refugee families who do not qualify for government assistance are filling out grant applications with the IELCHI. The church will provide grants as it is able.
With fewer than 10 professional church workers, the IELCHI’s manpower is stretched thin. Merritt says the IELCHI’s pastors and church members are bringing vital assistance as quickly as they can and asked that the LCMS keep them in prayer. “It’s an opportunity for the church to be present,” said Merritt, “but unless we have the resources to actually assist the people, it makes it very, very difficult.”
“The earthquake in Chile is one of those events which just breaks our hearts,” said Rev. Matthew Harrison, executive director of WR-HC. “The effects are horrible and the need profound, but because it fell just after Haiti, and the death toll was far, far smaller, the assumption is that the need is insignificant by comparison. And because the event was quickly eclipsed in the news cycle, the giving has been completely overshadowed by Haiti. But the Lord’s timing is His and His alone. And He knows well how to bring blessings out of the worst crosses. That I don’t doubt for a moment.”
To date, LCMS donors have given $23,768 for Chile earthquake response efforts, but Merritt urges donors to continue to share their financial gifts. “Materials are readily available in Chile, what we don’t have are the dollars to get the materials that are needed to assist these people,” said Merritt. “And right now the resources we have for responding to the earthquake in Chile are rather limited.”
To make a gift, call toll-free 888-930-4438, mail donations marked “Chile Earthquake Relief” to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861, or visit http://givenowlcms.org.
Sarah Schafer is communications project manager for LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted March 24, 2010