Saturday, December 22, 2012

Belen fire thoughts

Here are a few random thoughts about the fire in the neighborhood of our LACC School in the Belen district of Iquitos.

1) Ironically, Belen is Spanish for Bethlehem. As I shared previously, I was in Iquitos to give Christmas gifts to the kids in our LACC schools. The gifts were supposed to arive four days prior, but were still on a river barge when I landed in Iquitos. The shipping company said they wouldn't be available until Monday (Christmas eve). We begged and prayed and the gifts became available on Thursday. We were at the shipping company when we got the call about the fire. If the kids in our school in Belen had received their gifts that morning, as was planned, the gifts would have burned in the fire.

2) The day before the fire, I took photos of the street because we were in negotiations to buy some of the houses next to the school. Then the fire struck. After the fire, I took hundreds of  photos and various videos of the site. I wanted to show everyone the before and after shots, but they were all lost. Something happened to corrupt the files on the card (perhaps the security X-rays in the airport?). I was (and still am) really upset. I've never had anything like this happen before and feel doubly frustrated by such a loss at such a critical time. By God's grace, I had copied photos from Pastor Jose's camera and also had photos on my phone. I definitely feel that the enemy does not want to bless the people of Belen. Destroying my pictures was just one more way to hinder our mission work there. May the Lord turn their ashes into something beautiful that gives Him glory!

3) Since we didn't have the gifts to give out on Thursday, I took some of the High School Seniors and teachers out to lunch to celebrate their graduation. When we got to the restaurant, I saw that some of the Seniors hadn't come. It was because they didn't have 30 cents for the taxi ride and they were too embarrassed to tell me. I would have paid for their transport, but they don't have cell phones so there was no way to tell them that. I felt horrible. Nonetheless, with those who did come, we had a great lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I sat with the Seniors and talked with them about their dreams for the future. It felt great getting a chance to talk with them personally. I've watched them grow up over the past five years. We had no idea what was about to unfold.

4) For those who are able to help, donations can be made payable to "Peru ChildCare"
in the check memo line, please write 8481046 Class 46
Send to: Assemblies of God World
1445 Boonville Ave.
 Springfield, MO 65802

Fire in Belen

On Dec. 20, a fire destroyed the community surrounding our LACC school in the Belen district of Iquitos. Over 1000 people have been displaced. Thanks to all who have expressed concern and are praying for Belen. I just got back from there and need a bit of time to pull it all together. Here are the main points of interest:

1. The fire broke out because of a propane tank explosion. The community thought that two children died, but (thankfully) they were found the next day.

2. About 1000 people have been displaced and are using our church and school as the relief centers.

3. The biggest needs are food, a place to sleep/live and clothing. We do a feeding program at the school, so the members of the church are now using it to feed the community. Some of the people you see in the photos, feeding the community, are the very ones who lost their homes. There is no gas, water or electricity in the community, so they are cooking the food over the wood scraps from homes.

4. We have enough food on site to serve about 500 meals for about 10 days. The government is also shipping in food--though the people like ours better! Lena Shrader, Emily Sandoval and Ron Smith (along my kids and other friends) shipped 120 boxes of food yesterday. It'll take about 14 days to arrive.

5. I had $1500 in my ministry account in Peru, I gave it to Pastor Jose to buy mats that the people can sleep on, to buy some meat (to go along with the fortified rice and vegetables we had on hand) and to buy emergency supplies. I told him that more money was on its way.  (Please see the post below, from Phyllis Rose, for the account number and address.) When we get the money transferred to Peru, I'll be able to transfer some to Pastor Jose for immediate needs and also negotiate purchasing things in bulk from Lima. Iquitos is in the jungle and does not have the infrastructure to just buy what you want.

6. The president of Peru visited the site, yesterday. I missed him by a few minutes. He's promised every family two sheets of plywood and some tin. I think I didn't understand the translation very well, because everyone seemed to think that was excellent news. I asked Pastor Jose, "So, people are going to build a house with two walls and no floor?" His response was (and I'm not kidding), "They're pretty big pieces of plywood." He also said the president was going to outlaw thatched roofs--which is like blaming the conditions of a refugee camp on cardboard.

7. I've asked Pastor Jose to give me a plan and a budget. He's working on it, but is mostly preoccupied with handling emergencies. We can't start rebuilding yet. I'll post an update when we can start rebuilding.

8. Clothing is a big need, but it cannot be shipped in easily. The Peruvian government is very strict about this. It will likely be easier to buy it here and ship it down. I need to work this out with my missionary colleagues who have more experience in disaster relief.

For those who want to come and help right away, please be patient. Jungle culture does not move as quickly as Americans do. At the same time, the people in this community are not complaining as much as Americans do, either! It is amazing how they are not complaining. They just went out and started collecting the remaining wood to save it as fire wood.

I'm currently coordinating different aspects (and just got to see my family). I need to make some calls and get more information. So, I'll post more in the very near future. Thanks for your prayers. Many of the displaced people are the kids in our school and are my friends from the church. As such, your concern is a great comfort to me and has enabled me to encourage them that help is on its way.