The effects of the earthquake struck home for many Indian Christians as reports on tsunami death toll skyrocketed in the course of several days. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake first struck Indonesia before unleashing a series of tsunamis that effectively destroyed 1,200 miles worth of South India’s coastline. The destruction has so far left more 12,000 dead in India, with thousands more still unaccounted for. Recently, the death toll from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, the Maldives, and Somalia has reached over 150,000.
Amongst the casualties was a significant portion of India’s Christian community.
“It has been a terrible tragedy since it all happened on Sunday when the church service was on, and it occurred during the Christmas period,” Donald H.R. De Souza, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said to Christianity Today. “In the Kottar area of Tamil Nadu, about 300 Christians who were attending a religious service died.”
In a no less tragic event, over 700 worshippers were killed Sunday at the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health in Velankanni. Additional worshippers remain unaccounted for and feared dead.
John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Christianity Today magazine that the tsunami was “a greater tragedy than many others faced in the past” in the Christian community. “It's especially hard on the Christian community, Dayal added. “Most of the boatmen and fishermen in the coastal areas are Christians.”
Dayal expressed hopes in eventually providing surviving fishermen with boats and nets as part of the organization’s recovery efforts. "Fishermen need nets and boats. We will be focusing on that along with giving them trauma counseling and providing long-term rehabilitation,” he told Christianity Today.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India has also been actively involved in aiding recovery efforts in coastal India, enlisting the help of local Indian churches and various multi-national Christian organizations. “We have been on site from day one providing relief. We have already sent appeals for funds within India and abroad. We see it as a tragedy of human family. We will serve every needy person irrespective of his caste or religion,” says Richard Howell, the fellowship’s secretary general.
In addition, the Catholic Church has also pledged support. According to James Christian, Bishop’s Chaplain for the Church of South India’s Diocese of Madras, his church has sheltered and clothed survivors, and collected money. Nonetheless, Christian maintains, the situation remains desperate. “We are doing our best but our resources are insufficient,” he said to Christianity Today. “A lot more needs to be done. It is a time of great tragedy and we need prayers.”
Currently, India’s churches have declared a nationwide day of prayer set for January 2 in remembrance for the many who perished in the natural disaster.