Christians Working Together to Aid Tsunami Survivors

Mission Organizations use existing evangelism networks to provide aid for more than a million people
( [email protected] ) Dec 29, 2004 05:56 AM EST

In the past hours following the Sunday earthquake that brought destruction onto 12 nations, rescue-workers are feverishly attempting to rebuild a sense of order to the chaos. Efforts to clear rubble, bury the dead, and locate survivors are currently underway. Nonetheless, rescue-workers are faced with a herculean task of giving aid to the more than million of people needing relief in the aftermath of the disaster. According to Associate Press estimates, more than 55,000 persons have perished in disaster following the earthquake last Sunday.

Addressing the seriousness of this issue, many aid-organizations such as the International Red Cross, World Health Organization, Salvation Army, and World Vision have begun rushing millions of dollars worth of food and aid to areas struck the hardest by the tsunamis including Sumatra, the nearest location to the epicenter of the quake.

Hidden behind the media coverage that most major relief organizations attract, an untold number of workers from on-site Christian missions organizations have also taken to helping survivors locate food and shelter – in addition to scouring the rubble for trapped people.

The World Vision Organization, which has done much humanitarian work in previous decades also used onsite resources and networks. According to relief director Andrew Sundersingh, the World Vision Organization plans to feed 1,000 people and set up aid stations in four districts. In deed, such work has not come without risk.

Some workers in the World Vision Organization, in fact, also experienced the destructive power of the tsunamis. In a report Jayath Vincent, a worker from World Vision India, reported:

"In Chennai, where the national office of World Vision India is situated, the first warning came as a slight tremor. Around 7:30 a.m., walkers and children playing on the Marina beach of the city were taken aback and started running at the sight of a wall of water rising to flow into the almost a kilometer wide beach towards the car park. Reports say that the surge was so strong that parked cars were thrown around like toys.”

"All of us around the world are deeply saddened by this tragic news in Asia," says Richard E. Stearns, president of World Vision. "To those grieving over loved ones lost or missing, pleased be assured you are in our thoughts and prayers."

“The devastation has left everybody in shock,“ J.L. Williams said to Crosswalk. “It is comparable to a natural Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Everybody is reeling under the massive weight and magnitude of this disaster, and trying to strike where they can.” Williams is the founder and current CEO of New Directions International (NDI).

So far, locals have grumbled against the multi-national aid organizations for their apparent slow response in getting to areas struck more heavily by the worldwide disaster. According to sources from within the Associate Press, many roads have been destroyed or damaged further confounding rescue efforts and isolating towns sorely in need for disaster-relief.

William’s on the other hand, finds the relatively slow response as understandable, stating, “Whereas it takes large government organizations time to respond because they have to fly in their own people and set up their own infrastructure, we have people who live there. They are on the ground 24/7. They know the country and know the culture, and can respond immediately in a way that expatriates just aren’t able to.”

The NDI has previously been active in mission activities throughout India, and has developed long standing relationships with local churches including those belonging the Evangelical Church of India, which currently has over 200 churches in India alone.

Through this network of relationships, mission organizations have shown a surprisingly quicker reaction time in regards to aiding disaster zones throughout India. In some cases, responding to disaster-stricken areas in minutes.

In the NDI’s case, the organization had built a firm network of churches throughout the nation in cooperation with the ECI years before the disaster. Currently, each of these churches is now serving as a collection point for aid-workers, aid-supplies, the injured, and the homeless. “Little did we realize,” Williams commented to Crosswalk. “When we built that church probably half a dozen years ago that it was going to be, among other things, [used] for such a time as this.” In cooperation with the NDI, the ECI have also begun its own relief efforts as well.

In an email addressing Williams, head of ECI Bishop Ezra Sargunam wrote:

“While our heart goes out to the families of the dead and those who lost their possessions, we won’t just sit back and sympathize with them, but will do something concrete to mitigate the misery of the victims. ECI has already swung into action, providing an immediate relief of 2000 food packages, which will be distributed to the victims in the Chennai area this evening. We are planning to follow this up with a five-day relief program of providing one square meal to 10,000 victims everyday for the next five days and then once the floodwaters recede and the inundated areas dry up completely, put up tarpaulin-sheet shelters for 5000 families, besides giving each of these families a set of cooking utensils and rations for a week.”

In addition to supplying food and shelter, the ECI hopes to supply small motorized-boats and brand new fishing nets to the more than a thousand fishermen whom have lost their livelihood in the course of the disaster. Sources from ECI commented that they hope they could better help survivors not just in their present difficulties, but also in their future difficulties as well.

Besides working with ECI, the NDI has also worked in the past with the Sri Lankan-based Youth for Christ (YFC). The head of YFC is Doctor Ajith Fernando, who is considered by many to be the “Billy Graham of Sri Lanka.” In large part thanks to the previous cooperation between NDI and YFC staff, supplies are reaching Sri Lanka faster.

The NDI hopes to raise additional funds and supplies from its offices in the United States and from churches nationwide. NDI hopes to raise no less than $12,000 dollars in providing for its relief efforts, citing the ECI pledge to raise enough money to shelter and feed thousands of families for the next five days as rescue-workers wait for water to recede.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) also shares a system similar to the NDI. Working with partner organizations in Southeast Asia and North American-based relief organizations, the CRWRC has also been on the scene, providing food and other forms of aid relief to

“It is important at times like this to not only send needed supplies, but to also help the local people play a part in the response,” says Jacob Kramer, CRWRC’s Relief Coordinator. “They need to know that they can do something to overcome this tragedy.”

CRWRC is currently working hand in hand with Eficor and the Southern Sumatra Christian Church. The local churches will serve as onsite networks in India and Indonesia that help identify areas of need, and distribute food and other supplies in as efficient and effective manner as possible. CRWRC’s has already gathered $30,000 meant to purchase and transport emergency food supplies and water to Northern Sumatra (Indonesia), Sri Lanka, and coastal India. In addition to working with localized churches, the CRWRC will also cooperate with churches of international origins including the Dutch Reformed Church of Sri Lanka.