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Jamaican churches to raise money

BY NADINE WILSON Sunday Observer staff reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 17, 2010    

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CHURCHES will today be doing more than offering prayers to the heavens for the survivors of Tuesday's magnitude-7 earthquake in Haiti, they will also be collecting special offerings and donations of relief supplies to help those affected by the disaster.

Their efforts come in the wake of a request from their local umbrella groups -- including the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals, the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Jamaica Association of Full Gospel Churches, the Church of God in Jamaica, and the Jamaica Pentecostal Union-Apostolic -- for assistance for the Haitians.

"We are also inviting our church schools to receive from their constituents monetary offering and in-kind donation," said the groups in a joint press release to the media this past week.

General secretary of the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU), Reverend Karl Johnson, said the over 300 churches in the union have responded to the call and will be collecting donations of non-perishable items, water and money today to help with the relief efforts.

"There is no human being who is not touched by this. A person would have to have some other issues of a mental nature not to be," said the pastor, noting that members of the JBU had visited Haiti last November to help with a number of outreach projects.

The Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands have also expressed their willingness to help and will be mobilising contributions during their services for what they are calling the 'Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund'. The money will thereafter be sent to the Anglican Diocese in Haiti, which is the largest in this hemisphere.

The diocese has been informed of the loss of at least four lives as well as the widespread destruction of church property in the country. The properties that were completely destroyed include the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Port-au-Prince, the Convent for the Sisters of St Margaret, the bishop's residence, and a college for the training of clergy.

Members of Roman Catholic churches across the island will also be making their contributions today during their regular services which will be sent through the local charity group, Food For The Poor.

"All the churches over the island will be making a special appeal for this week and next week," said Monsignor Michael Lewis of the Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church.

The priest said a number of members within his parish have lost family in the French-speaking country and so a lot of emphasis will also be placed on emotional support during the next few weeks. The church community is also still mourning the passing of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Haiti, Joseph Miot, who was found in the ruins of his office, and a vicar who has been declared dead.

"There are over 80 priests who are currently missing. The cathedral has been destroyed and most of the churches have been destroyed," Lewis told the Sunday Observer.

But while some churches will begin the collection of items today, there are several others that have already started. Scores of churchgoers responded to a call made by Bishop Herro Blair to take non-perishable food items along with them last Thursday to send to Haiti. The items were collected during the Faith Cathedral Deliverance Centre's ongoing tent crusade service in Waterhouse, Kingston.

Blair, whose Deliverance Evangelistic Association has seven churches in Haiti, said he has not been able to get through to any of the church leaders in the rural section of the country. However, he is pleased with the relief efforts to date.

"The most serious part of the problem after meeting the deadline of getting the people out of the rubble, is how they are going to be provided for," he said while noting that his church will be sending the donations through the Love a Child Ministries, a Christian humanitarian organisation that had helped the church to ship a 40-foot container of goods last year to the impoverished country.

Blair noted that he also intends to house Haitians who have been left homeless by the earthquake at his St Catherine-based home, if the Government makes an appeal of this nature.

In addition to donating US$10,000 to the relief efforts and launching a collection drive in its more than 700 churches yesterday, the West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists said they are also prepared to help with housing.

"We are also aware that there might be some fleeing from the county, as it happened in the past when there is a crisis, and so the church is on alert to assist in this area with housing, especially in Portland," said the union's president Derek Bignall in a release to the media.

The church's community services department and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Jamaica have also been collecting non-perishable food items, clothing and bedding, while Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville will be making counselling services available to those traumatised by the event through their Behavioural Science Department.

Pastor of the Mona Open Bible Church Reverend Gregory Morris said his church has also been collecting relief items since last week to send to Haiti and will donate half of the toiletries and other items they collected for Jamaica's correctional services in December. This will be done with the approval of the prisoners who have said they want to make their own contributions.

"At this time, they (Haitians) need everything because they have lost everything," said the pastor, noting that his congregation has been contributing non-perishable items and water. "Persons have been extremely sympathetic towards the cause, because they are saying what if it was us?"

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