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Hearts long resistant to the Gospel open amid tsunami relief

SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP)–Tuslam stares blankly off into the distance. His gaze passes over the miles of rubble that was once his village. Out of habit, he looks for his wife and son, even though he knows he will not find them. They died Dec. 26, when an earthquake sent walls of water crashing through their home.

As the 30-something man picks his way through broken blocks of concrete, balled up motorcycles and household debris, three boys run past, chasing a soccer ball. The corners of Tuslam’s mouth form a smile, but his eyes do not follow suit. They remain lifeless as he explains that most of the children died in his village. Only 700 people survived, where 7,500 lived just six months ago. Only 20 of these survivors are between the ages of 1 and 20.

Life after the tsunami goes on amid destruction and despair.

Initial needs of food, water and temporary shelter were met soon after the disaster. Now people settle in for the long haul — something that could take years. Months of tireless work clearing debris have made only a small dent in the vast destruction.

Christian workers and volunteers from the United States work side by side to clear the wreckage, rebuild homes and offer medical care. They work in areas where people historically have been resistant to Christians. Like never before, hearts in these normally closed places are opening as the workers help pick up the pieces — physically as well as emotionally.

Even after months of mourning, tsunami victims have not released all of their pent-up tears and emotions.

“This is the most depressing place I’ve ever been,” International Mission Board missionary Beverly Collins says, wiping away tears. “I haven’t stopped crying since I arrived. My heart just goes out to these people who have suffered so much.”

During the past 38 years, Beverly and her husband, Chuck, have worked with people in Southeast Asia through wars and disasters. She knows part of the healing process is listening to people tell their stories about losses and how they survived. Being a confidant and friend are the most important roles Christian workers and volunteers carry out for tsunami victims.

At first, victims never reveal that the tsunami hit them. But as workers build trust, the stories begin to flow. Medical workers treat a young, pregnant woman in a clinic. Arkansas volunteer Anna Redman sits, listening to her story. Mariana says she lost more than 30 family members. When the wall of water came, she grabbed her son and ran to higher ground. The water swirled around her and, finally, the surge sucked the toddler from her arms. The last thing she saw of her son was his arms reaching out to her as he screamed, “Mommy! Mommy!”

“I can’t even imagine the guilt of this young mother,” Redman says. “It’s not her fault the water sucked up her child, but she can’t get that image out of her mind.”

She wipes tears as the young mother watches stone-faced.

“I have no words for her; all I can do is cry and pray. I told her we are here because we love her and want to share her pain.”

The culture of this place restricts victims from crying on the outside, but on the inside, victims wail. Someone has scrawled on a nearby wall: “God, we repent.” A popular Asian musician has penned a song asking God what His people have done to anger Him.

The words go on to ask for forgiveness.

Many survivors not only question God and their beliefs but also ask: “Why was I chosen to survive?”

Collins points out the empty looks on many faces as they search for new meaning in their lives. One woman says she returns to the same bridge at the same time every day, hoping to find her husband in the last place they saw each other. Other Christian workers tell how they have more opportunities now to talk about God and His love than ever before as people seek to understand.

“There’s an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness,” Collins says. “And then out of nowhere, God puts a symbol of hope right in our arms.”

At one of the medical clinics, a baby named Tsunami lets out a squeal of delight and giggles. All the volunteers look up to see a healthy child with smiling parents and doting neighbors surrounding them. All are enthralled with this new life that began Dec. 26 at 10 a.m. — just minutes after the giant waves hit. Tsunami’s parents scurried to higher ground just in time for his birth.

“Through this healthy baby — born in the midst of the tsunami — there’s a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of new life,” Collins says. “Villages will be rebuilt and lives will be rebuilt.”

She asks Southern Baptists to pray these lives will be rebuilt on the solid foundation of faith in Jesus Christ.