Those were my thoughts just 48 hours ago as the news alerts scrolled across my iPhone, reporting another devastating earthquake in Mexico City. The city has been living on borrowed time since its founding on an ancient lakebed.
In hindsight, no one would build a city on such shaky ground. But cities are not built overnight, like Rome was not built in a day.
First there were just a few huts as the ancient Aztecs chose the location around 1325 and slowly filled in the lakebed with rubble. Then as word of its popularity grew, there were more huts and the jungle paths that would become roads. Traders of beads and corn became merchants; trade routes were established.
And now, 692 years later, the site and its 21-million residents has become the world’s fifth largest metropolitan area.
Why is all of that important? Because that massive lakebed, which slowly filled in with silt and mud and debris through the centuries, is fine for huts but does not provide a foundation for skyscrapers and hospitals and tall apartment buildings. When the earth shakes the soil liquifies like Jell-O and magnifies the vibration throughout the structures.
There is a sermon illustration in there, but I will allow the pastors and Sunday School teachers to expound on that.
On September 19 a devastating earthquake registering 7.1 shook the city to its already shallow foundations. At least 230 are now reported dead and the toll will surely rise.
But exactly 32 years ago to the day, an earthquake registering 8.1 struck and brought even more pain and heartbreak to its residents. The official government death toll was around 10,000 but more realistic estimates ranged as high as 20,000.
As an editor for the Memphis, TN-based Baptist Brotherhood Commission in 1985, I was one of Southern Baptists’ first journalists to report from the scene of the earthquake. My job, writing for the men’s laymen’s organization as well as Baptist Press, was to tell the story of how Southern Baptists were providing physical needs wrapped in spiritual counsel.
The focus was on the ministry being provided by the denomination’s army of bright yellow-shirted volunteers emblazoned with the name of their state under the prominent wording “Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.”
These volunteers, certified through extensive training in a variety of skills, are the proverbial hands and feet, arms and face of Christ. With their bright shirts they stand out in crowds of other workers and are frequently sought out by locals who have lost everything.
Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers are never first responders. That role is restricted to government agencies who conduct search and rescue and then search and recovery. A byproduct of that effort results in identifying the greatest needs where relief teams can be most effective.
I remember my first encounter with those yellow shirts 32 years ago this Fall … in Mexico City. I flew from Memphis to San Antonio where a layman picked me up at the airport and drove me to a rest stop along I-35. That’s where I rendezvoused with an 18-wheeler and a van packed with Texas Baptist Men from the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
From there we drove all the way to Mexico City, nearly a thousand miles spread over two days. We were ferrying blankets to guard against the Fall chill, food, diapers and medicine … along with tons of precious drinking water.
I was not prepared for the horror to come.
As a member of the Southern Baptist agency which coordinated disaster relief efforts among the state conventions, I was used to seeing skyscrapers with windows sucked out by hurricane winds, homes blown away by tornadoes and businesses ruined by flooding.
None of those natural disasters, if compiled and thrown together into one gigantic nightmare, could compare to the destruction of that beautiful city.
The damage was not limited to one section of the sprawling metropolis but pockmarked the landscape. It was as if Godzilla had taken a morning stroll across the city and had sat here, laid down there, and left footprints a block long wherever he walked.
The scenes were repeated everywhere you looked and where the disaster relief teams set up their feeding and counseling centers. There would be no destruction for blocks until you turned a corner and were hit with the reality of the suffering and heartache that accompanies such a disaster.
Buildings were sprawled across streets, while rescue workers dug frantically for survivors. Interiors of banks, apartments and hotels had been laid bare to the wonderment of passersby because their outer walls had melted away like ice cream on a hot summer day.
The simple pine coffins stacked five deep under shade trees reminded you that the nightmare was continuing for countless relatives who lost entire families the morning the earth moved.
More than 13,000 residents were immediately transformed into street people without food to eat, water to drink, or home to return to. Children needed food and diapers. People of all ages needed their daily medications. They all needed hope.
Thousands lay buried in premature tombs as hundreds of skyscrapers remained in various stages of collapse.
When the damage assessment began to roll in the government opened the door to international aid for the first time in its history. Southern Baptists were among the first to walk in with the Good News for Modern Man translation of the Bible and life-saving resources.
Today the denomination’s disaster relief efforts are coordinated through the North American Mission Board. It works through states who train and raise funds for their teams and respond where and when needed.
During the past 20 years with The Christian Index I have experienced first-hand the ministry of Georgia Baptist disaster relief ministry. In one weekend I traveled to Albany to cover teams helping residents pull up carpet and mudout their homes after major flooding. Just 24-hours later I was onsite near Gainesville, far to the north, as chainsaw crews cleared trees from homes following a major tornado.
The disasters are too numerous to list but the commitment of the men and women make all Georgia Baptists proud. They don’t do it for the glory or the attention, but for Christ.
As I write this, there are 1,500 trained and credentialed Georgia Baptist volunteers standing at the ready. As many as 500 collegians may be trained this weekend during their annual Conclave gathering.
Hurricane Irma left its calling card last week and citizens are already being assisted with storm damage cleanup. This morning, Georgia Baptists can be proud of the men and women, with their bright yellow shirts, who are onsite in Cornelia, Kingsland, Brunswick, and in Liberty and MacIntosh counties. By Monday teams may be dispatched to Clay County, FL.
Not everyone can take the time to serve as volunteer in this ministry, but they can participate through financially supporting the work of those who are willing.
Stuart Lang, who coordinates Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, is urging individuals to respond through prayer, creating Buckets of Care, and/or donating directly to disaster relief efforts. For more information on Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief’s response, visit its website or Facebook page.