Some Chilean Covenant Church Leaders Reported Safe

CHICAGO, IL (March 2, 2010) – Three Covenant Church of Chile (CCC) leaders and their immediate families are reported to be safe following Saturday’s earthquake that killed more than 700 people, but no word has been received about the status of others.

President Marcus Sobarzo, who also pastors the church in Concepcion, is safe, and no damage was reported to his house, according to Dave Mark, the Evangelical Covenant Church Department of World Mission regional coordinator for Latin America. Two Mexican missionaries working with the congregation and staying with the Sobarzo family told their parents they had survived. No one from the church was injured.

Missionaries with the Swedish Covenant Church reported that Lucian Silva, pastor of the Tomé Covenant Church, and his family also survived the earthquake. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the church building there, as well as the one in Concepion, were destroyed.

Henoch Fuentes, an ordained Covenant minister who attends the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin, Illinois, said this morning that his sister, Ala Maria, the pastor of the CCC congregation in Rancagua, also survived. Fuentes was visiting her and arrived on Friday, the day before the earthquake.

The church building also withstood the earthquake. “It was built rock solid by volunteers from the Covenant Mission Connection,” Fuentes said. The parsonage also sustained little damage, even though the earthquake registered an 8.5 magnitude in the city of more than 200,000 people.

Fuentes said he did not believe anyone from the church had been injured, but some had been left homeless. Like many other residents, they have fled to the nearby hills and are living in tents.

There has been no word on the fate of Covenanters in other communities. “We are particularly concerned about places like Tomé, Penco, and Coelemú where there are Covenant churches, because they are coastal towns,” says Mark. “We also have unclear reports of damage about Villa Alemana, where there is another Covenant church.”

No one has been able to contact Alejandra Ibarra, a staff member with the Department of World Mission’s Merge Ministries. She lives in Tomé with her husband and two-month-old daughter.

A tsunami that struck the towns destroyed much of the coastal communities. “There are boats in the middle of Tome,” said Fuentes, who had been able to talk briefly with someone from in the area. Much of the population had fled into the hills before the tsunami hit, but thousands are still missing, he added.

Many of the people immediately headed to the hills after the earthquake due to their experience with tsunamis, Fuentes said.

Water and sewer systems are not fully functional in Rancagua, but firefighters are occasionally opening some hydrants so people can get water, Fuentes said. Survivors have access to food because it is harvest time, he added.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck in the early morning hours on Saturday demolished thousands of homes and adversely affected the lives of two million people. The Chilean Red Cross reports that roughly 500,000 homes suffered extensive damage. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called the situation an “unthinkable disaster.”

The earthquake is ranked among the 10 most powerful since 1900. It shook the nation for roughly two minutes and was quickly followed by aftershocks, according to news reports. More than 90 aftershocks have been recorded.

Prior to the earthquake, Fuentes had planned to stay in Rancagua for several days before traveling to Argentina to attend the Confraternity of Latin American Evangelical Covenant Churches (CIPE), the triennial gathering of Covenanters from Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Hispanic churches in the United States. He said he will be unable to attend.

The severe damage to transportation routes probably will prevent other Chilean representatives from attending as well, Mark said. “They will particularly miss President Sobarzo whose role in these meetings is significant.”

Mark said he expects Sobarzo to remain busy with work beyond his church duties for some time. He is a leading oceanographer from the University of Concepcion and also a Fellow of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

“He will likely have intense responsibilities for studying the effect of the quake and tsunami,” Mark said.

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