St. Vincent facing 'monumental challenge of humanitarian relief'

Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Michael F. Haverluck (

Volcano eruption St Vincent (April 2021)After the eruption of La Soufrière on April 9 spurred up to 20,000 of St. Vincent's 100,000 inhabitants to evacuate, a nearby Baptist church is providing hundreds of meals while relief agencies bring supplies to the eastern Caribbean island nation.

Kingstown Baptist Church pastor, Rev. Cecil Richards, is working with church members to help feed victims who have been evacuated from their homes, with some 170 meals being prepared immediately after the blast for distribution from his church's kitchen to evacuees at the southern end of the main island.

UNITED NATIONS (April 20, 2021) – The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines made a heartfelt plea Monday to the international community to help his country recover from a volcanic eruption that has displaced 20,000 people, saying the island nation is "in its midnight hour of need."

"Across our land, the faces of men and women are strained and anxious. They’re hurting badly," Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told the U.N. Security Council, saying his country is confronting "a monumental challenge of humanitarian relief."

Thousands of people have been living in government shelters, some of which have been struggling to provide basic supplies, and water systems are shut down in many parts of the island.

The U.N.'s resident coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said last week that the island was facing "a humanitarian crisis that is growing and may continue for weeks and months." It is happening as St. Vincent and the Grenadines contends with the coronavirus pandemic and the approaching hurricane season.

- The Associated Press

We can do more …

Not satisfied with the initial response, Richards' team upped the distribution to 250 just a few days later on April 12, with hopes of reaching 300 in the near future.

"That is only our immediate response," Richards told Religion News Service (RNS). "That can't be it."

With up to 300 regularly attending his church service before the COVID-19 pandemic, Richards is optimistic that his church and other religious organizations – including international relief agencies – can meet the long-term physical and spiritual needs of Vincentians, who experienced a similar eruption more than 40 years ago in 1979.

Coinciding with a United Nations report divulging that anywhere from 16,000 to 20,000 evacuated their homes, St. Vincent's National Emergency Management Organization revealed that 3,800 victims are currently living in 87 shelters.

The latest blast reportedly left ashes stacked up inches high on residents' rooftops and weighing down plants in the nation known as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where access to clean water is now lacking, according to the U.N.

Rising up to meet the needs …

Richards is adamant that believers must use this time to show residents the power and healing of God.

"How do we counsel as they get stressed? How do we handle some of the emotional needs? How do we minister to them as an organization of faith, representing God?" Richards posed. "These are all needs that we will – as a church – mobilize ourselves to meet."

With many scientists forecasting more volcanic eruptions in the upcoming weeks, faith-based relief organizations – including the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) – are ramping up their recovery efforts.

"Since there is ongoing volcanic activity, plans are not yet finalized, but UMCOR's initial plan is to provide funding and expertise so the local team can deliver basic human needs for people in the disaster shelters that are currently operational," UMCOR spokesman Dan Curran told RNS. "Many are located in churches."

One interdenominational Florida-based group, Food for the Poor, has gathered supplies to assist volcano victims, along with the Orthodox Jewish group, Chabad-Lubavitch, from the nearby island of St. Lucia. An Anglican organization from Canada – the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund – is currently working with church representatives from the neighboring islands of St. Lucia and Grenada to collect donations.

David Franklin, who serves as the missions director for the Bartow Baptist Association (BBA) in Georgia, is working to wire money to help St. Vincent victims while he and other Baptist leaders are determining future assistance. Prior to the latest volcanic blast, BBA dispatched teams to St. Vincent to run a vacation Bible school and conduct church revitalization work.

Mike Ebert, the spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention's national and international compassion ministry, Send Relief, says his group is also at work helping natives through the blast(s).

"[Send Relief is] providing food boxes for those who have been evacuated to shelters, as well as health and hygiene supplies for women and girls at the shelters," Ebert explained.

Blast from the past …

Vividly remembering the 1979 volcanic blast on the island when he was a young boy, Richards shared how impactful a Southern Baptist missionary was on his life and spiritual journey as he remembered how selflessly the Christian man served the community to distribute clean water – when there was none.

"He spent his entire day – day after day after day – delivering drinking water to people," the 50+-year-old pastor and St. Vincent native recalled. "Sometimes, the loudest sermon you preach is not from the pulpit – sometimes the loudest sermon you preach is with a bucket of water in your hand."

In image above, ash rises into the air as La Soufrière volcano erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)

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