Disaster relief still needed in Amer. Samoa

Baptist Press
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Posted: Nov 16, 2009 4:45 PM
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (BP)--Southern Baptist disaster relief work continues on American Samoa, seven weeks after an earthquake -- measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale -- struck the South Pacific island, triggering a deadly tsunami that killed 31 people, including six Southern Baptists.

But disaster relief volunteers onsite say many needs created by the disaster remain unmet.

Water purification has emerged as the key disaster relief ministry operation in American Samoa since the Sept. 29 tsunami, according to Bruce Poss, disaster relief coordinator for the SBC's North American Mission Board. As of mid-November, volunteers had purified more than 4,000 gallons of water in 17 villages throughout the island, which is located about six hours south of Hawaii.

Natural water supplies in most locations on the island have been tainted, so authorities have urged Samoans to boil the water, Poss said. But villagers are unwilling to spend their limited money on propane fuel to boil water when they need it to cook food -- making water purification vital.

"We're using the great analogy between the dirty water, which represents man as a sinner, and the clean water that represents Jesus Christ and the forgiven man saved by grace through faith," said NAMB Mission Service Corps missionary Randy Corn. "We use that at the beginning as we start the purification process to let the Samoan people know why we're there."

Corn and his wife, Ronda, who are from Horse Shoe, N.C., serve in conjunction with the board's adult volunteer mobilization team in the areas of disaster relief, Baptist Builders, Campers on Mission and Families on Mission. Following the earthquake and tsunami, the couple volunteered to spend a month in American Samoa to minister to victims and spread the Gospel.

The Corns recently were joined by Wade Gayler, disaster relief director for the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, Kathie Rhodes and Clara Hohmann, along with California Southern Baptist Convention volunteers Naomi Paget, Dave Cochrane, Mike Bivins and Don Hargis, disaster relief director for the CSBC. All are assisting with water purification, chaplaincy and crisis intervention with high school students and children.

The Corns are scheduled to leave American Samoa on Nov. 19, to be replaced by yet another missionary couple, Leon and Sara White of Alabaster, Ala.

While Randy Corn has been overseeing water purification on the island, his wife has been involved with prayerwalking and Bible study with members of the local Chinese Baptist Church. The Chinese are one of many people groups represented in American Samoa.

"Through an interpreter, the Chinese people are telling us 'you don't know how much we appreciate your helping us,'" Ronda Corn said. "They ask us how long we're going to be here and ask us if we're coming back.

The Chinese women "tell us, 'We don't understand your language, but we see Jesus in you. We've been praying for someone to come and teach us,'" she added.

Many of the American Samoan villagers fortunate enough to survive the tsunami lost everything they owned when four devastating waves -- each 15-20 feet high -- blanketed the island early on the morning of Sept. 29, washing people, structures, personal belongings and vehicles out to sea.

Ronda Corn loves to tell the story of "Susi" -- a 64-year-old Samoan woman, her long gray hair neatly knotted in a bun -- who lives in the village of Asili on the western tip of American Samoa.

"Susi was in her home about 50 yards from the beach doing some morning chores," Corn said. "She had no warning and no way of knowing that, 135 miles away, a tsunami was brewing which would level her house within 15 minutes."

According to Ronda, Susi's house suddenly became very dark and as she looked out her front window, a huge tsunami wave was heading right for her home. Susi ran out the back door to the only other shelter she knew -- an outside toilet made of cinder blocks.

"Just as she ran into the outhouse, the tsunami wave hit, filling the interior with water and lifting Susi up to the top of the tiny block building," Corn said. "Her head was lodged in an open space of only 12 inches between the top of the blocks and the exposed rafters. Wave after wave smashed against the concrete outhouse. All became quiet again and as the seawater receded, Susi found herself back on the floor -- without a scratch."

Now, seven weeks later, most of the home is gone and what's left has been condemned, but the cinderblock outhouse remains. Susi now has 10 adults and children living with her in her condemned house, only because it's better than what they have -- nothing.

"Susi was very emotional and wept as she talked about how God spared her life," Corn recalled. "I had the tremendous honor of praying with Susi for the peace that passes all understanding, for comfort and for the Lord to provide for all of her needs."

The Corns, soon to return home to North Carolina, worry that American Samoa has fallen off the radar screen, and that Southern Baptists have forgotten about the significant material and spiritual needs on the 76-square-mile island.

Poss says Southern Baptists still have a challenging mission in American Samoa which -- with a population of 69,000 -- is a United States territory. Because of the island's relationship to the U.S., some American Samoans will qualify for recovery grants from Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"But American Samoa is made up of many different nationalities," Corn explained. "There are the Samoan people and there are the expatriates. Fifty percent of the island's current population is expatriates, who do not qualify for any FEMA assistance."

What can Southern Baptists do for the American Samoans devastated by the tsunami? According to the Corns, the best thing to do is give a monetary donation toward recovery efforts.

The Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention has established a fund for individuals and organizations wanting to support relief efforts in American Samoa. Donations may be mailed to the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, Samoa Disaster Relief Fund, 2042 Vancouver Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822. Donations can also be made through NAMB's disaster relief website, www.namb.net/dr.

Southern Baptist state conventions train their own disaster relief volunteers, purchase their own disaster relief units, and respond to disasters occurring in their own states. The North American Mission Board coordinates national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts when a disaster requires response from multiple state conventions. NAMB maintains agreements with national entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other state and local entities. Together, Southern Baptists have more than 85,000 volunteers trained for disaster relief response and more than 2,000 units specifically designed for use in disaster settings.

Mickey Noah is news consultant for the North American Mission Board..

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