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Baptist workers offer food, shelter in hard-to-reach Pakistani villages hit by earthquake

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–As an earthquake brutally shook under his feet, Awal Khan left his goats in the mountains and rushed home, only to find his house a mass of rubble. His wife and 12-year-old daughter had been inside.

“The walls and roof of the house caved in on them,” Khan said. “I took them and buried them. I dragged them out, and now they are in the cemetery.”

A Southern Baptist disaster relief assessment team found Khan standing on the edge of a road situated high above the town where his home once was. Reaching the town was not easy. Living in it right now is even harder. Shelter, food and medical care are scarce in this town, which prior to the earthquake had served as a supply hub for surrounding villages.

“Southern Baptist workers have assessed many of the affected areas and are responding,” said Philip Monroe*, a Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist serving in Asia. “The vast majority of the seriously affected areas are accessible only by helicopter, long walks on foot or long, dangerous drives in vehicles.”

Khan’s town is one of several hard-to-reach places where Southern Baptist aid workers will focus their relief efforts.

“If you don’t have anything to meet your physical needs, you can’t hear anything that meets your spiritual needs,” Southern Baptist worker Josie Gabdon* said. “By meeting their physical needs, we really open up an avenue to meet their spiritual needs.”

On Thursday, Oct. 18, Southern Baptist workers expect to begin distributing more than 13 tons of food staples to the town’s survivors. About 30,000 people live in the area. About 600 died there.


“This one guy lost his wife and three daughters,” Southern Baptist worker Otto Ackerman* said. “He has only his clothes. He doesn’t have anything else. He couldn’t salvage anything out of his house.

“The people down the way are the worst affected. Eight kilometers down, the road is closed. Their biggest concern is that the relief won’t get to them, that it will only get to where the road stops.”

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake shook buildings from central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh the morning of Oct. 8. Pakistan’s northwest frontier and the region of Kashmir were hardist-hit. On the Indian side of Kashmir, about 1,350 people died. In Pakistan, more than 39,400 have been confirmed dead –- with estimates reaching as high as 54,000 casualties. Thousands more have been injured, and the United Nations estimates that 2 million are homeless.

“As with the tsunami disaster, the response will be both difficult and extend over a period of time,” Monroe said. “At this point, the greatest need for the victims of the earthquake is for temporary shelter that will carry them through the cold, bitter months ahead. Already, we have daily rains, and snowfalls are beginning to blanket some of the affected areas. The second greatest need will be for food and medical assistance that will also sustain them through these difficult months.”

Southern Baptist workers based in South Asia began helping earthquake victims the day after the quake.

“Some of our folks have flown into affected areas and have trekked to some of the wounded,” Monroe said. “They have assisted both governmental and non-governmental agencies in assessing the conditions of some of the sites that have been affected. We’re also assisting other Great Commission Christians in their mission to provide medical assistance. We have been supplying two hospitals with medical supplies.”


In easy-to-reach places such as Balakot, abundant aid has drawn earthquake victims like a magnet. Medical tents and relief distribution points are crowded. Donated clothing litters the grounds, earthquake victims walking over it like a carpet. However, according to news reports, because of difficult terrain and landslides, aid has yet to reach almost 20 percent of Pakistan’s earthquake victims.

“I’ve seen many a man carry his mother or his father literally on his back down the mountain [to the hospital],” Ackerman said.

Southern Baptists are focusing their relief efforts on communities that have received little, if any, aid.

“We’ve got to be careful not to succumb to doing what is easy over what is best,” Monroe said.

Gabdon and others put those words into action Oct. 15-16 as they flew to a remote area and prepared Pakistanis suffering from head injuries and crushed bones for evacuation by helicopter.

“The first day we sent out 12 on the first flight and about 30 on the second flight,” said Gabdon, who is a nurse.

Weather apparently prevented the helicopter from returning to pick up the medical crew, so they spent an unexpected night stranded on the mountain.

“It was so cold,” Gabdon said. “I was shivering and, you know, trying to process the things I had seen during the days.

“Just about then, the sound of the aftershock came in, because it comes in with a low roar up in the mountains. It is like a wave crashing, and then the ground just shook. My heart just started racing. I said, ‘I know we are not going to die in this little aftershock.’”


Spending a cold night in 40-degree temperatures was worth the result: The team seemed to bring hope to the mountain village, Gabdon said.

“I think that our being able to get the patients down-country brought a renewed energy to the villagers, because the next day they were back working,” she said. “They were taking the tin off of the school to use for their homes. The overall feeling for the villagers the next day was that there is still hope, because we had taken care of the real sick ones. Things looked a little bit lighter.”

The first team of Southern Baptist volunteers will arrive in Pakistan Oct. 21.

“We are currently planning for the first 30 days to address medical needs because of the massiveness of the injuries that occurred,” Monroe said. “With the search and rescue people leaving, 80 percent to 90 percent of the medical aid is leaving. There is a big dearth of medical help.”

The first three teams of volunteers will be made up of medical personnel only.

“The resources of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network were being used in tsunami response in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka prior to the earthquake,” Monroe said. “Hurricanes Rita and Katrina have stretched the resources of the Southern Baptist Convention prior to the current earthquake in Pakistan. And now the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief network are being asked to address significant disasters in multiple parts of the world.

“The limited capacity of airlift, coupled with about 3 million displaced persons, will present challenges to our field personnel on the ground and the stretched resources of the Pakistan government,” he said. “Southern Baptists will be called upon to stretch even more by providing volunteers who can come and assist with the very, very difficult work.

“These volunteers will need to be in excellent physical condition, be able to withstand cold uncomfortable conditions and be strong enough to carry supplies.”


The relief efforts may provide an unprecedented opportunity to reach into the heart of lostness in this part of Pakistan, Monroe said. Most of the people of Pakistan follow Islam. In and around Khan’s town, the people speak Urdu, Pushto, Hindko and Kohistani. Gujjars, a nomadic people group of about 2 million, gather in clusters on the nearby mountainside. Dari Izaq, a 12-year-old Gujjar boy, told the assessment team that the six families in his cluster migrate with their water buffalos.

“It never fails that when I assess a disaster relief project, when I start seeing not just the destruction but also the people, there is a feeling I get that God is going to step in and do something great,” Monroe said. “Today it just hit me. I just had a feeling that God had His fingertip right there [in Khan’s town]. Just like in the tsunami, it is like He just pinpointed and said, ‘This is where we are going to work.’ I see God’s fingertips all over this.

“We need wisdom on how to balance meeting physical needs and meeting their spiritual needs at the same time,” he said.

Southern Baptist workers hope sharing Christ’s love in a tangible way will help earthquake victims understand God loves them through Jesus Christ.

“Our goal is that we develop relationships in such a way that people will come to Christ and that churches can be planted in those remote areas.”
*Names changed for security reasons. For more information on current and future volunteer needs, e-mail [email protected]. To contribute financially to relief efforts, send gifts designated for “South Asia Earthquake Relief” to P.O. Box 6767, Richmond. VA 23230. One hundred percent of the gifts will go for relief aid.

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  • Goldie Frances*