North American staff members of Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) are safe after an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haiti Jan. 12. Since then, donations from members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America to help Haiti are coming in at an encouraging pace.
Haiti is the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. The earthquake was centered in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Red Cross is estimating the death toll to be between 45,000 and 50,000. The International Red Cross estimates that 3 million people, a third of Haiti’s population, will need emergency relief, including shelter, food, and water.
“The earthquake that hit the capital city . . . was severe,” CRWRC-Canada director Ida Kaastra Mutoigo reported. “But we have confirmed that all Christian Reformed staff are safe.”
However, some of their homes were damaged. Missionaries Howard and Ruth Van Dam wrote that they spent the night after the quake in their vehicle. The day after, they started cleaning up but aren’t sure if their home is actually livable, due to large cracks in the walls.
At least one other staff home was damaged, but the missionaries did sleep in it the night after the quake. Establishing communication with staff in Haiti has been difficult.
CRWRC-Haiti staff member and Dutch expatriate Ad DeBlaeij reported, “There are thousands upon thousands of people in the streets. Most of them slept outside [after the quake] because of fear of aftershocks. In front of the CRWRC offices, there are 400 people just sitting on the ground, and they’ll likely be there for the next day or two until it is safe for them to return to what is left of their homes.”
Other North American staff in Haiti include Cobie DeBlaeij, Anthony DeKoter, Lesley Millar Toussaint and Diego Toussaint, and Rev. Zachary King and Rev. Sharon Segaar-King.
Jennifer LeMahieu and Mary DeKoter are currently off the field.
Back to God Ministries International, the CRC’s media ministry agency, has a ministry center in Port-au-Prince for follow up to its French-language Christian broadcasts heard in Haiti.
No information was available about the Haitian staff, including BTGMI national administrator, Sem Hypolite, nor his assistant, Marguelita Petion, nor the 37 volunteers who work with 900 students enrolled in the BTGMI Bible study correspondence ministry.
“This is tragic,” said Rev. Paul Mpindi, BTGMI’s French-language minister. “It is hard for me to bear the fact that many of our listeners are under the rubble, wounded or dead. But we trust our Lord, who sometimes allows suffering in our lives. Our prayers are with our beloved brothers and sisters in Haiti.”
Mpindi said the ministry office of BTGMI is still standing, but there is no word on whether it is structurally safe.
Rev. Daryl DeKlerk, pastor of congregational life and youth of First CRC in Barrie, Ontario, was relieved to hear that his parents, who live in Haiti, were safe. Dorothy and Peter DeKlerk of Wellandport, Ontario, who volunteer at a small orphanage, reported that amid the destruction, Haitian children were singing and praying and praising God. The Van Dams also reported that people in the ravine next to their house spent the night after earthquake singing and praying.
The denomination’s crisis management team has restricted travel of personnel to Haiti, with the exception of those approved by the CRWRC international disaster response director. Staff living in Haiti but out of the country at the time of the quake have been asked not to return to the country yet.
Staff in the denominational offices in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Burlington, Ontario, gathered for prayer for Haiti on Thursday, Jan. 14.
CRWRC's Disaster Response team began planning its response as soon as word was received about the quake. The first activities will be to meet urgent needs for things like water, shelter, and food. “We want to get survivors out of the sun, out of the damage, and hydrated,” said CRWRC Disaster Program Manager Jacqueline Koster.
CRWRC will also collaborate with other organizations to ensure that the aid efforts are coordinated and no needs fall through the gaps. “We want to be sure that our collective response has the greatest possible benefit in the long-term by coordinating our activities,” Koster said.
CRWRC has been working in Haiti for more than 30 years, partnering with local churches and community organizations. “During a disaster like this, it is hard to see anything positive,” said Ken Little, CRWRC’s Disaster Response Senior Project Manager, “but one strength that we do have is local leaders and community connections who can quickly identify needs and help us distribute aid to those most in need in a timely and effective way.”
Little will travel to Haiti on Friday, Jan. 15, and additional international disaster response personnel will follow early next week.
Financial contributions for CRWRC’s response are urgently needed. As of noon on Thursday, Jan. 14, nearly $100,000 had already been received.
In Canada, donations by individuals made to CRWRC and other registered charities between Jan. 12 and Feb. 12 will be matched dollar for dollar by the Canadian government through its Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.
Gifts marked “Haiti Earthquake 2010” can be given online at www.crwrc.org
In Canada, donations can be called in to 1-800-730-3490 or sent to 3475 Mainway, P.O. Box STN LCD 1, Burlington, ON, L7R 3Y8.
In the US, call 1-800-552-7972, or mail checks to CRWRC, 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560.
Donations should be marked “515287 - Haiti Earthquake 2010.”
CRWRC said it is not yet clear what role, if any, there will be for volunteers in the relief response. Anyone interested should in volunteering should contact Carol Sybenga at 1-800-730-3490 or e-mail email@example.com.
—Gayla R. Postma with files from CRWRC and BTGMI
For frequently updated information, please visit the CRC’s main Web page at www.crcna.org and click on the “Help Haiti” flag.