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Earthquake destruction in India stirs Baptist groups’ response & witness

WASHINGTON (BP)–Christian aid groups were marshaling resources to join in the late-January global response to the most devastating earthquake in India in 50 years.

The official death count, as of Jan. 29, had surpassed 6,200 people in western India, with the chief minister of the state of Gujarat estimating that the toll could reach 20,000.

The earthquake struck the morning of Jan. 26, centering in Gujarat and registering 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance, has committed an initial $10,000 to assist immediate relief efforts and has launched a special appeal for funds.

Meanwhile, a Southern Baptist regional assessment team has been dispatched to the area to determine the most pressing needs, such as medical supplies and food, for response.

Gujarat is an area where Christians have suffered in recent years, with churches destroyed and Christians attacked, according to the Baptist World Alliance. There is no known Baptist group in the state; thus BWAid will be working through indigenous evangelical and ecumenical relief groups, such as the Evangelical Fellowship of India Committee on Relief.

Gujarat and four other states suffered the greatest destruction, and all are “frontline areas where missionaries are persecuted,” reported Christian Aid Mission, based in Charlottesville, Va.

“Indigenous groups are already helping as much as they can,” said Lance Thollander, Christian Aid director for India and Pakistan, “but they cannot go to their neighbors with aid they don’t have.”

Thollander noted: “Help sent now will help native missionaries open hearts to the Lord Jesus.”

Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “Southern Baptists are moving quickly to meet needs in Jesus’ name as they attempt to ease the suffering of these dear people.” Relief donations may be sent to the International Mission Board General Relief Fund-India earthquake, Nelson said, noting that 100 percent of all gifts will be used for hunger and relief purposes. The IMB address is P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

BWA’s Asian regional secretary, Bonny Resu, likened the devastation to a war zone — “reminiscent of Second World War pictures of bombed-out cities in Europe and Asia, and also to the cyclone-devastated areas of Orissa in October 1999,” he reported.

“The greatest need now is for medical personal and medicines” for the thousands who were injured, Resu told the BWA. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless.

The Indian Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) is already responding to needs and aims to assist about 35,000 people with food, shelter, water, blankets, clothes and other basic relief items. Sam Selwine of CASA reported from Gujarat that the damage is far worse than anything he has seen before.

In launching an Indian earthquake appeal, BWAid director Paul Montacute said, “Baptists again have the opportunity of being involved in Carey’s India and of standing alongside our Indian sisters and brothers, as they seek to bring relief to those who are suffering.”

Donations designated for “Indian Earthquake Appeal” may be sent to Baptist World Aid, 6733 Curran St., McLean, VA 22101. Donations may also be made by Visa or MasterCard in U.S. dollars by stating the gift amount and providing the card number; expiration date; donor signature; and name as it appears on the card. Inquiries may be addressed by phone to (703)-790-8980; fax, (703) 790-5719; e-mail, BWAid@bwanet.org. A U.S. tax receipt will be issued for all donation.

Among other groups mobilizing aid for Indian earthquake relief are World Vision, based in Tacoma, Wash.; Christian Aid Mission, based in Charlottesville, Va.; MAP International, based in Brunswick, Ga.; Food for the Hungry, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Salvation Army World Service Office, based in Alexandria, Va.

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