2016-07-27
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WASHINGTON (RNS)--Kenton Moody has never seen his home crumble in an earthquake. He has never watched flood waters sweep away his possessions, nor seen his neighborhood buried under avalanches of mud.

But time and time again he has cast his lot with those who have.

As director of international relief for Convoy of Hope, an independent international relief ministry that draws much support from the Assemblies of God, he has visited nearly a dozen countries in as many years, each time in the aftermath of some disaster.

"I went with a team to Venezuela after the flood, and we saw literally hundreds of homes buried under mud," said Moody, referring to the mudslides and record rainfall that killed as many as 30,000 people in Venezuela in December.

"We had just finished touring one of the neighborhoods out beyond the airport in Caracas and we were getting ready to go back to the van, and one missionary wandered over to the cliff. He saw a severed human hand lying in the mud. Just lying there. Things like that bring back the reality of how real these disasters are."

Real indeed.

In the last four months of 1999 alone, more than a half-dozen natural disasters left trails of devastation around the globe--from floods and mudslides in Mexico, Vietnam and Venezuela, to cyclones in India, to earthquakes in Turkey and Colombia, to the hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean and eastern seaboard of the United States.

In the wake of each calamity, faith-based organizations sprang into action.

For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's International Disaster Response team launched a $275,000 disaster relief effort in China, Nicaragua and Venezuela providing food, medicine, drinking water and emergency shelter.

Southern Baptists dispatched aid to Kosovo, distributing wood-burning stoves to families and helping build roofs on homes damaged during the war. In West Timor, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency set up temporary housing for East Timor refugees fleeing violence.

It also distributed blankets to Turkish earthquake victims and teamed up with Turkish Protestant Churches to deliver food packages.

Earthquake survivors in Turkey also got a helping hand from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which built temporary housing near the earthquake's epicenter at Izmit.

As disaster victims in each country begin the slow process of reassembling their lives, some religious disaster relief agencies are still reeling from the impact of last year's disasters, while trying to prepare for what may loom ahead.

"I don't know that we've ever seen the slate of disasters that came within (the) period from November (1998) to December (1999)," said Moody. "We did have a little lull (last) fall that allowed us to catch our breath. Other agencies we talked to couldn't believe it--just as they riled up for one disaster, here comes another."

Two months into the new year, Convoy of Hope is still recovering financially from last year's spate of disasters. The group was involved in disaster relief efforts in 36 countries last year, from Kosovo to the Sudan, said Moody.

"It tapped our treasury, definitely," he said. "Financially, it's been a difficult year. We're operating on a shoestring budget right now. But we go out and look for whatever we can get. And sometimes you just have to operate on faith. We went to Venezuela without any budget, but we felt like we had to respond immediately."

World Relief, the international aid arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, also watched its coffers drain as the agency responded to disasters in 37 countries--up from 21 countries the year before, said World Relief president Clive Calver.

"It was dreadful," said Calver, who personally visited a number of the disaster-stricken areas. "A lot of those places were just absolutely destroyed. There were so many places that needed our help."

While International Aid, a Michigan-based Christian relief agency, spent $74 million last year in disaster relief efforts--including helping North Carolinians whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Floyd --disaster relief coordinator Sonny Enriquez said the agency is already planning for what disasters may lie ahead by increasing its fund-raising efforts.

"It's not that easy for us to fund raise," he said, noting the agency depends heavily on contributions from individuals and churches. "We have to really continue knocking on doors this year, but the faster we get the resources the faster we can build up our capacity to respond to disaster situations on a global basis."

Convoy of Hope is doubling its stock of emergency food supplies to prepare for the months ahead, said Moody.

"We're just moving into a new warehouse (with) nearly 300,000 square feet," he said. "It's our goal to have 5 million pounds of goods and supplies on hand to be ready in case of disasters."

In addition to increasing its staff, World Relief is gearing up for disasters in the months ahead by devising plans to help churches to sound the alert more quickly when disasters occur, said Calver.

"We've been strengthening our disaster relief component, primarily through staffing," he said. "We've developed systems with faxes and e-mails so churches can tell us when it happens so we can get on board immediately in making a response."

And at International Aid, workers are stockpiling supplies, according to Enriquez, who estimates the group will spend as much as $60 million to $80 million this year on disaster relief supplies for its warehouse.

"We have quite a big warehouse and we've got emergency kits we can send off to any destination," he said. "We're collecting a lot of materials so that we have the basic essentials, like medicines and blankets and hygiene materials and water purifiers. We want to situate the inventory so we can ship them out to any part of the world within 72 hours of commitment to get involved. Our objective is to have a quick turnaround."

The group is also focusing on stockpiling medical supplies, said Enriquez.

"Medicines are always the first supplies to be depleted, especially the antibiotics," he said. "They are always the biggest need--we definitely saw that last year."

Such preparedness is essential, say the disaster relief leaders, as many agencies already have an eye on hot spots around the globe in anticipation of initiating disaster relief efforts later this year.

Indonesia, India, Chechnya, Angola and Sierra Leone have caught the attention of World Relief, while Convoy of Hope expects to send several relief teams to El Salvador, Mexico and Indonesia before the year is over.

Not only must relief agencies contend with the unexpected disasters, many must still tend to a number of ongoing relief projects in nations around the globe, Calver said.

"We've been working on projects in places like Turkey and the Sudan for a long time--digging wells, helping people learn basic cultivation skills," he said.

"Our aim is not to just walk in and provide food and then withdraw. We go into every emergency situation recognizing that long-term support is needed, and that's what we do. The hard part is making people realize that once the disaster isn't in the news anymore, these people still need help."

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