In Chile, used firefighter equip. is a blessing

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 28, 2011 6:00 PM
In Chile, used firefighter equip. is a blessing
MOLINA, Chile (BP)--The next time Station 1 firefighters in Molina, Chile, are called on to make a rescue, they will be doing so in fireproof uniforms -- a gift from Southern Baptist Mike Lynch, a fellow firefighter from California who met the Molina crew while doing earthquake relief in Chile last year.

"What we have access to buy is made nationally and sometimes doesn't meet specifications," says Danilo Reyes Venegas, captain of Station 1. "This is really a big help for us."

It took nine months and a lot of prayer to move the heavy equipment halfway around the world. But with God's help, Lynch came through for his friends.

In the months following the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Chile in February 2010, Baptist Global Response -- an international relief and development organization -- sent multiple teams of volunteers to aid Chile. Lynch, a bivocational pastor who divides his time between First Southern Baptist Church of Shafter, Calif., and the Tulare County (Calif.) Fire Department's Station 5, led one of the BGR teams when he and five other California Baptists went to the hard-hit town of Molina in May.

During their trip, Lynch and his team visited Molina's Evangelical Baptist Church and were invited to introduce themselves to the congregation.

"When I happened to say I was a fireman as well as a pastor, there was kind of a rumble in the back of the auditorium," Lynch recounts. "It turned out that two of the members of the church there that night were firemen."

The next day, the firemen invited Lynch to tour the Molina fire department's Station 1. During the tour, Lynch learned that Chilean firefighters are completely volunteer and receive no compensation from the government. It is a situation that greatly limits their access to the expensive safety equipment they need.

"But I found them to all be very, very dedicated to the work that they're doing there as volunteers and very, very proud of their fire department," Lynch says. "They're dedicated because they're doing something for their community that nobody else wants to do. It is dangerous work."

When the Molina firefighters asked Lynch what happens to old equipment in the United States, he began to realize how he might help them. The policy in the States is to replace all equipment every 10 years, regardless of its condition, so there is often an opportunity to share it with other firefighters.

"There's nothing wrong with the equipment," Lynch explains. "It's just used."

Most of the replaced equipment from Lynch's station is donated to firefighters in Mexico. But Lynch could see there was also a need in Chile -- a need he might be able to meet.

"I said, 'I don't know. I can't promise you,'" Lynch remembers. "'But I will make contacts when I get back home.'"

After returning to California, he contacted the California State Firefighteers' Association's committee for surplus fire equipment. Through this committee, Lynch acquired 30 sets of fireproof pants and jackets, 18 fire helmets and several fireproof gloves. But the difficulty wasn't acquiring the equipment. It was getting it to Chile.

"It's not cheap to send the stuff, because it is heavy," Lynch says. "It was going to cost me more than $3,000 or $4,000 to send it ."

Lynch contacted various shipping companies but all were either unwilling or too expensive. Months went by, but no workable option presented itself. During that time, Lynch stayed in touch with his friends in Molina, and they assured him they were praying for God to provide.

"It was kind of heartbreaking when you're trying to do something for these guys and you keep getting, 'No, we can't help you.' 'No, we can't help you,'" Lynch says.

Running out of ideas, Lynch sent an email to the five other volunteers who had gone with him to Chile.

The next day, Lynch got a reply from Don Smith, director of missions for California's Sequoia Baptist Association. "My next-door neighbor, I just found out, does a lot of importing of fruit and vegetables and stuff from Chile," Smith said. "Let me talk with him."

When Smith explained the situation to his neighbors, Mark and Debbie Krauter, and asked for their help, they replied, "Absolutely." Not only were they willing to ship the equipment, they were willing to do so free of charge.

Nine months after Lynch's visit and a week after the anniversary of the earthquake, the firefighting equipment reached Lynch's friends in Molina on March 7. They could not be more grateful.

"For Brother Michael -- and everyone who contributed -- tell him we are very thankful and extend to him the gratitude of our small community of Molina and the fire station," said Molina Fire Director Jorge Muñoz Venegas. "How proud and happy the firemen are to receive this donation."

But Lynch was just one of hundreds of Southern Baptist volunteers who traveled to Chile to help with quake relief. These volunteers -- working in partnership with Chilean Baptists -- set up field kitchens to feed quake survivors and built pre-fabricated temporary shelters called "mediaguas" to house displaced families. In Molina alone, volunteers built 150 mediaguas, while the kitchen, at its height, produced 2,000 meals a day. Lynch and his team completed eight mediaguas in just eight days.

"The Baptist Global Response teams that did the mediaguas touched so many lives," said Texas native Jerry Bowling, an International Mission Board missionary in Chile, who worked with BGR teams after the quake. "It's really exciting what's going on all over Chile. In the disaster area, we saw that teams that came in gave opportunities for just opening doors, and today we've got communities that were not open before but today are wide open."

Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer in the Americas. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

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