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Native Missionaries First on Scene with Relief for Tsunami Victims

January 4, 2005

Native Missionaries First on Scene with Relief for Tsunami Victims

January 4, 2005

January 4, 2005

While aid workers and agencies hustled to reach areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Sunday, Dec. 26, at least one Christian mission that supports native missionaries in 10 Asian countries was already on the scene, bringing basic supplies and the gospel to thousands of the terrified survivors. Gospel for Asia (GFA) reported that it had more than 200 workers in the affected areas within a day, and now has more than 1,000 of its 15,000 native missionaries involved in the relief efforts in India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands.

The quake, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, struck at about 8 a.m. (local time) off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, sparking a massive tidal wave that inundated coastlines of Pacific islands and South Asia. The most severe damage occurred in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The latest death toll is estimated at more than 140,000 (94,000 of these in Indonesia) with many more thousands still missing.

GFA President Dr. K.P. Yohannan was returning from India when the killer waves struck. As soon as he landed, he was on the telephone with GFA leaders across south Asia getting updates on the work. He planned to return to the devastated areas on Thursday, Jan. 6. During his brief stay at the ministry's U.S. headquarters in Carrollton, Texas, Yohannan helped coordinate a $10-million effort to meet both the immediate and long-term needs of millions of homeless victims.

"Since our workers our already in place, we do not have to wait to fly people in from Europe or America," he said. "And because we work at the grassroots, we do not have to rely as much on high-tech solutions for distribution. We have an infrastructure already in place supported by 1.5 million believers in South Asia, and they are able to minister effectively to the shattered survivors of such tragedies."

One GFA leader reported from Sri Lanka that the waves left some 10,000 children as orphans and that GFA Relief Services is committed to establishing 10 orphanages to care for them. They are receiving support from both government and private organizations. "The government of Sri Lanka has encouraged us to proceed with the orphanage project," Yohannan noted. "Texas Baptist Disaster Relief services has chosen to work with GFA workers in their water purification project." GFA has previously been involved in relief efforts following the Orissa cyclone in 2000 and the Gujurat earthquake in 2001.

Christian Aid Mission, which works with more than 100 indigenous ministries in areas affected by the disaster, added that many of these outreaches were among the first on the scene to help, providing what aid they could in the name of Christ. Indigenous ministries are providing food, blankets, clean drinking water, clothing, medicines, tents and cooking utensils for victims. A ministry in southern India is using its Bible college as a relief headquarters, setting up donation centers and sending teams with supplies to devastated communities in states hit by the tsunami. Multiple Indian ministries are mobilizing local churches to collect money and other necessities for victims.

HCJB World Radio has set up a Disaster Relief Fund and is working in partnership with GFA and others to minister to disaster victims. Dennis Adams, director of the Asia Pacific region, said the shortwave station operated by HCJB World Radio-Australia is sending out special programming to encourage victims.

"We are terribly saddened by the huge disaster in our region," Adams said. "The staff in Australia has put together a special program (repeated several times) expressing our grief, sadness and prayer support for people in the areas. The program also brought a message of hope and tried to answer many of the questions naturally raised by people at a time like this. In addition, we have carried many messages from Australian authorities -- presented in a warm and understanding way, rather than just cold facts."

Meanwhile, Christian ministries worldwide are complementing efforts by governments and dozens of relief agencies to rush aid to the affected areas. Here are some highlights:

Christian counselors are standing by at airports in Germany to help the traumatized. Pastor Hans-Joerg Koeppen said the late returnees are often the most seriously injured. More than 1,000 German tourists in South East Asia are still unaccounted for and feared dead. Only 60 corpses have been identified. Approximately 7,000 tourists have returned to Germany, many of them injured.

World Vision Australia is supporting families as they return to their villages with ongoing emergency relief for those who lost everything when the tsunami hit. Aid workers are overcoming obstacles of blocked roads and poor weather to deliver food, blankets, clothing and water to those whose homes have been destroyed. World Vision is helping people to rebuild their lives in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. Work includes providing medical aid, food, water and clothing as well as helping people deal with the psychological trauma. World Vision Australia has also committed to provide aid for at least five years to affected countries.

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), is onsite in Medan, Sumatra, flying in aid supplies and ferrying out victims at the request of the Indonesian Air Force. Hardest hit by the tsunami was the northern province of Aceh where most bridges and roads were obliterated, making ground transportation impossible. Communications were also wiped out in the affected area.

The International Bible Society has supplied approximately 100,000 copies of the booklet, "When Your Whole World Changes," which are being distributed by relief agencies in affected countries. The booklet includes Scripture passages and devotional content that share hope, truth and counsel in a month's worth of Bible-based readings.

Lutheran World Federation member churches in South East Asia continue to deliver most needed basic assistance (medicine, food and clothes) to survivors, many of whom have sought shelter in community centers including church buildings.

Mercy and Grace is a non-profit, Christian, church-based and charitable organization, is providing physical, spiritual, educational, vocational/technical, psychological and economic aid to victims.

Christian Mission International Aid has received numerous urgent requests for assistance from Christian churches and organizations in Sri Lanka. Requests that CMIAid has received are for help to meet immediate and ongoing needs. Sri Lanka organizations have requested blankets and linens, summer clothing, water purification tablets, milk products, bulk food items and a range of medical supplies.

Compassion International has set up a Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund, pledging $375,000 to help victims in Aceh. Compassion will use the funds raised to care for orphaned children as well as delivering food, clean water, medical care and counseling to families in crisis.

Global Action of Colorado Springs, Colo., has been distributing relief to the survivors in Sri Lanka and India. David Kelley, development team leader for Global Action, said, "We have already finished our first distributions in both Sri Lanka and in a fishing village south of Chennai that was devastated in India. The trucks are being loaded for the second distribution."

Catholic Relief Services and its local partners immediately mobilized to the hardest hit areas of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. Food For the Poor has committed 50 tractor-trailer loads of relief supplies from its Deerfield Beach, Florida, headquarters. The CRS response is expected to climb into the millions in order to meet emergency needs and for the subsequent rebuilding and rehabilitation of the region. The initial $500,000 will be used primarily to help our partners bring food and emergency relief to the survivors and to avoid disease. More than 23,000 people in nine countries are reported dead; millions have been devastated and left without homes.

Episcopal Relief and Development has begun emergency response efforts, pledging $250,000 in aid for the worst-hit areas. The retired Anglican bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Rev. Kenneth Fernando, said, "We have received many inquiries about the situation in Sri Lanka after the disaster. It has been a very heavy disaster. Most of those affected are the poor who live in little shanties by the sea. They have lost everything. Our churches are being used as temporary camps and the government, and non-governmental organizations are beginning to function."

Baptists around the world are responding to appeals from Baptist World Aid (BWAid) for donations to fund relief efforts. Individuals, churches and international groups have already sent funding.

World Evangelical Alliance is taking steps to coordinate communication and relationships between some 15 relief and development organizations and the national evangelical alliances. The most immediate needs are to search for, identify and bury the dead and to secure clean water, food and medicines in order to avert the spread of other diseases.

Asia Harvest partners in Malaysia made it possible to help with both the immediate emergency needs, and the longer term goal of helping people rebuild their lives. "They are already coordinating with efforts in Aceh, Indonesia. 150 Christian medics and volunteers from the Indonesian capital Jakarta are already in Aceh helping with medicine, food, water and tents, etc.," said spokesman Paul Hattaway. He added that Asia Harvest workers were well positioned to help clean water, food, burial, clothing, and masks/gloves to collect the bodies, body bags, medicine, tents, blankets and other items to tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, Southern India, and Phuket, Thailand.

Mercy Ships Australia will send a container load of donated goods and equipment to Sri Lanka as an initial response to meeting the nation's longer-term relief and development program following the Boxing Day tidal waves. National Director Brian Ross says many items donated by people throughout Australia, and scheduled for shipment to West Africa, will now be forwarded to an agency in Sri Lanka with which Mercy Ships has an affiliation for possible future partnership projects.

Samaritan's Purse staff and partners in Southeast Asia have been mobilized to assess the damage and meet critical needs in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other countries. They are prepared to distribute emergency food, cooking supplies, temporary shelter, water filtration units and medicine.

Back to the Bible is raising $400,000 for food, water, medicine and other needs which will help them share the gospel. "We'll trust that God will turn the hearts of people in this situation, make it softer, so that they will believe and accept the gospel as well as the truth of the Word of God," said James Kanaganayagam, the ministry's Sri Lanka country director.

Food for the Hungry's Beth Allen says the ministry is working with partners in the region. "Because we have our headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, we already have people on the ground in Phuket, one of the worst affected areas in Thailand. We are working with churches in that area to be distributing, at the very least, food and water and other basic relief supplies." Allen says team members are also looking for opportunities to share the gospel message.

Operation Blessing President Bill Horan says the ministry has staff members based in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore. "We flew some relief supplies and medical equipment up to north Sumatra," he said. "We have a very large medical team in Indonesia, two medical mobilized from our Hyderabad office. In Thailand we've got a medical team of 14 people going down to assist in a hospital."

Kent Craig of the Association of Baptist for World Evangelism said the ministry has 140 missionary personnel scattered among 11 nations in the Pacific Rim. "Although two of our couples were in the direct path of the tsunami that was triggered by the earthquake, all of our personnel are accounted for and all are safe as well as our national partners," he said. Staff members are working to bring physical and spiritual aid to survivors.

Sources: HCJB World Radio, Assist News Service, BBC, IDEA, World Vision, MAF, IBS, CMIAid, ENS, Christian Aid Mission, Mercy Ships, Mission Network News