When Pastor Cecil Richards began conducting response efforts to St. Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano eruption this past week, a rush of memories came flooding back.
The last time he witnessed an eruption, he was just a teenager. His Caribbean island home of St. Vincent suffered its catastrophic 1979 volcanic eruption, leaving 20,000 people homeless in the span of mere hours. At that time, Baptist missionaries were just establishing a presence on the island and still were severely distrusted, so Richards’ mother made a blanket rule that her family of six wasn’t allowed to have anything to do with the foreigners.
That rule changed with La Soufrière’s eruption, as IMB missionaries flocked to aid the survivors. One missionary in particular, Don Overstreet, helped reverse this house rule. After bringing a 5-gallon bucket of clean water to Richards’ home, the trust barrier was broken, and Overstreet was able to share the life-giving hope of the gospel with the entire family.
“Don made all the difference in my life—when he opened that door to trust, I was exposed to real life, hands-on ministry practices, and that is why I’m a pastor today. My church’s motto is based off of what Don shared, that the whole gospel is for all of mankind. We have engrained that into our ministry’s DNA and were prepared for this week’s volcano because he laid the groundwork. We can rise up and replicate his work and, because of that, I’m impassioned to be a Don Overstreet to someone else in this eruption’s aftermath,” Richards commented.
And he has his work cut out for him.
As of April 9, tremors and ash fall have caused La Soufrière’s 30 surrounding communities—around 20,000 people—to evacuate, with only 85 shelters serving as emergency housing. The shelters themselves were not meant for large-scale capacities, and only 3,500 residents of villages closest to the volcano’s red zone currently reside there. Widespread power outages, limited food rations and new COVID outbreaks are just a few of the many challenges facing relief workers and survivors as they attempt to outlast the ongoing eruption. With airports and maritime ports staying closed for safety purposes, supply deliveries have also been difficult to coordinate.
It is amid this logistics calamity that Kingstown Baptist Church, led by Pastor Richards, is stepping up to make meals for the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) to distribute. Send Relief is providing food and kitchen utensils for these local partners to continue their ministry, as well as tents where children can safely play and families can receive prayer.
One of Send Relief’s directors, David Brown, shared more about the continuing relief efforts, “National partners are providing hygiene products, including feminine health items and baby formula to NEMO to distribute, as we are not yet allowed into the shelters. Currently, to preserve survivors’ dignity, they are the only ones allowed to make direct contact. In the meantime, Send Relief is looking for gaps in services and opportunities to look at long-term needs as these displaced families begin returning home in the next few months. Clearing upwards of two feet of ash and clearing out homes are expected to be some main priorities.”
As Brown coordinated projects with Pastor Richards, the rumble of the erupting La Soufrière was clearly audible in the background.
Richards fought through the noise to share, “We are so blessed by and grateful for Send Relief, and we say a loud ‘thank you’ from our hearts because you are helping us execute this ministry. The name ‘Send Relief’ is going to gain traction in St. Vincent because, when all of this is over, the people will know that Baptists across America came to our aid in our time of need.”
Pray for the islanders of St. Vincent as they deal with the physical and emotional trauma of this disaster. Pray for heightened receptivity to the gospel and for Pastor Richards to be strengthened in resolve and courage as he serves families in shelters.
Provide food, shelter and more after disasters
Published April 13, 2021