ET’s ‘Missionary Spotlight’ for October 2000 featured the work of the Grace Baptist Mission in Arequipa, Peru. This region has recently experienced a severe earthquake, and we here report eyewitness accounts from GBM staff.
Lynn Shepherd writes [edited]: ‘I was speaking to a friend when the earth tremor began. We remained seated but were silent, waiting to see how long it would last.
‘The noise became louder and even louder so we stood up. Then all the ornaments began dropping off and smashing and we could hear glass breaking and, worst of all, people were screaming.
‘Jose-Luis and I went outside. By this time it was difficult to walk, as the ground was moving with great force. There was total hysteria around us.
‘The cacophony of sounds was deafening and we could not communicate with one another but were in one mind. A wall came crashing down as we left through the gate.
‘As soon as it all began to subside we went to find Cecily Maclagan. We began running and it was then the size of the disaster registered. Houses were down. Everyone was crying and in great distress.
‘The house three or four down from Cecily’s, a three-store building, was down. Cecily was kneeling in the middle of the road holding “Rascal” and praying. Beside Cecily was the son of a missionary couple across the road who was praying for the safety of his family.
‘Later the neighbour of this boy told him that while she was screaming and hysterical, she saw these two quietly praying and wished she had their faith.
‘We decided that it was safer at my house and felt great relief when we were able to get through to someone at home. The telephones were not fully functional but we were both able to get through to reassure everyone that we were OK before the news broke.
‘Cecily and I went into the town centre. It is devastated. Arequipa will never be the same. The great cathedral, and the old buildings with so much character are either partly down or badly cracked.
‘As I have been writing this there have been 15 more shocks, one fairly strong. I could say much more but I just wanted you to know what it is like and how there is a sense of God’s overruling presence and peace.
‘Pictures of more seriously damaged areas nearby are disturbing, particularly of Camana where the tidal wave struck. This town is an up-market holiday centre with the majority of homes on the sea front.
‘Thankfully it is winter and the holiday homes were not as full as they would have been in the summer. The town is completely flattened and the pictures are really breathtaking.
‘We praise our merciful Father that we have not heard of any believers either being killed or injured. The story is the same through many missionary organisations: safety for all the believers.
‘This does not mean, of course, that we do not grieve with others for the suffering and loss of life in this disaster.’
Anthony Green writes [edited]: ‘I am writing this as an urgent request to all who support us in regard to the unprecedented opportunities the Lord is giving to us after the recent earthquake.
‘Yesterday we went to a place called Puquina. We went first to talk with the Mayor who received us warmly and took us to some villages that had not been reached with aid.
‘These villages are nearly inaccessible and we would never have found them without the guidance of the Mayor. The aid we brought was the first to reach these villages since the Earthquake.
‘The Mayor first introduced us to the leaders of each village and then left us to give out the blankets, rice, porridge oats, milk powder, sugar etc.
‘He then stood aside as we preached the gospel and gave out booklets and tracts. We distributed the aid from the back of the vans and everything was done in order.
‘People were crying with joy as they received the aid and they all listened attentively to the Word of God. I was also able to witness to the Mayor and he said it was important for the people to reflect after the disaster.
‘He pleaded with us to return to help them in all the surrounding villages affected. We went to one area.
‘I cannot adequately describe it. We went at night with the Mayor and everyone was standing outside in the cold. Every house has been destroyed. There were old women crying in the street, pleading for us to help.
‘It was so very difficult to see such suffering, and we must do all we can to help. I promised them we would be back on Thursday with help.
‘The Lord is giving us unprecedented opportunities, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in reaching many with the Word of God. Many have asked us to visit them in the future, not for aid, but to return to speak with them in the future.
‘The need is immense, and the Lord is opening doors for us. We are urgently in need of funds to revisit these areas with aid. This gives us a tremendous opportunity for the gospel, and will enable us to gain a foothold for the gospel in those areas.
‘After tomorrow we will have no funds left. I am sure that if our brethren at home knew of such needs, they would provide the means to reach so many with the gospel.
‘On Thursday we returned to the village of Puquina. This time we took four German doctors who had been frustrated by the lack of organisation by the authorities. I thought it wise to take them with us and organise a clinic while we were distributing aid and preaching in the villages.
‘The doctors attended people all day and finished around 7.00pm. Most had stomach parasites due to dirty water and lack of hygiene. Almost half the population had problems with burning eyes, perhaps due to the dust caused by the earthquake. Also many of the children and adults had respiratory problems due to being out in the cold.
‘While the doctors attended the sick I went with the Mayor to visit the most affected area of the village. There was not a house undamaged; most were levelled to the ground. If the earthquake had struck at night it would have been a cemetery.
‘The Mayor began by calling the people together and introducing us. I then addressed the people and preached the gospel.
‘We were able to give out clothes, blankets, rice, milk powder, porridge oats, sugar, and other foodstuffs, as many people had no food.
‘A good number have asked us to return to hear more of what was spoken. One Christian lady asked if we would return so that she could start a Bible study in her home and invite her neighbours.
‘So you can see the Lord has been opening doors for us. Please pray about these matters.
‘We need wisdom from the Lord as to how best to follow up afterwards. Although this village is quite near to Arequipa it takes almost 3 hours to get there due to the state of the road and we need to know the mind of the Lord bearing in mind our responsibilities in Arequipa.
‘The Mayor has asked me to contact him at any time and he will inform the villagers of any meetings we plan for the future. We hope to make at least two further visits next week to other villages, to grasp the opportunity while we can.
‘Before we left the Mayor gathered all the people and gave thanks for our visit, even mentioning something of the message preached. All the people gave thanks and we started our journey home tired but rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord.’