ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Houses of stone crumble, and once the initial shock passes after tragedy and loss, people usually return to what they know. The people of Pakistan are no different, so houses of stone they are building.
The October 2005 earthquake that rocked northern Pakistan destroyed whole villages. Government officials estimate the 7.6-magnitude quake killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3 million homeless.
Rebuilding has been slow, and little of it has been done with any kind of longevity in mind.
“The people are rebuilding with the stones in many places, in the old way, and the government is opposed to that,” said Mercedes Teofila*, a Christian worker in Pakistan. “When I ask them why, they say, ‘We don’t have money, so this is the way we will rebuild.’
“Still, many of them don’t have houses,” Teofila said. “Some people are building really nice houses, but the poor, they are still in the metal shelters and are building houses with stones.”
Two years after the earthquake, fewer than 25 percent of the people are living in permanent, earthquake-resistant houses, Southern Baptist representative Worth Ballinger* said.
Reconstruction of schools also seems to be stalled. Fewer than 10 percent of the schools are meeting in reconstructed buildings, Ballinger noted. The rest are meeting in donated and damaged tents.
“Two weeks ago, a school had an incident where 20 students were seriously injured from a tent that fell on their heads,” Southern Baptist representative Ellie Arnold* recounted.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan -– in a region that sits on an active fault line — was one of the deadliest in recorded history. A 5.3-magnitude earthquake registered in Pakistan as recently as Sept. 9. Rebuilding with earthquake-resistant construction is prudent.
The government has given between $400 and $3,000 to families for reconstruction, Ballinger said.
“Most of them received the first payment, the 25,000 rupees [about $420], and that was all,” Teofila said. “Very few of them have received all [three payments].”
The government has banned some types of construction. In some cases, it has withheld subsequent payments to earthquake survivors who cannot show that they are using approved materials and practices to rebuild their homes.
“The people are frustrated as they wait for assistance from the government to rebuild their homes,” Arnold said. “They are determined to rebuild what they have and move forward.”
For many in Pakistan, the second anniversary of the earthquake has gone unnoticed. Political news -– not the woes of earthquake survivors –- filled the front page of one Sunday newspaper prior to the Oct. 8 anniversary. Pakistan’s parliamentary electoral college elected Gen. Pervez Musharraf to serve another five-year term as the country’s president on Oct. 6. Last year’s minute of silence to memorialize the dead seems to be no more -– though Oct. 8 was “celebrated” as National Disaster Awareness Day.
THE MOURNING CONTINUES
Most of the earthquake survivors, however, marked the date with mournful visits to gravesites during the day and then in the evening with a tearful breaking of the fast that they are observing for Ramadan.
“The people are resilient, but the loss is still evident as they share their experiences,” Arnold said.
For the past two winters, Christians have asked for prayers that snows would be light and temperatures warmer than normal for the sake of earthquake survivors living in temporary shelters. Both winters indeed have been mild. This winter, Christians echo their request.
“I think the winter is going to be very hard, because it’s getting cold already,” Teofila said. “… Last winter wasn’t that bad. They had snow but very little. The people who have these little shelters, they will be in trouble this winter.”
The year already has been wrought with an onslaught of rain that resulted in flooding in the earthquake zone.
Southern Baptist earthquake relief ended in July 2006, but Pakistani Christians whom Baptists helped train now are ministering through relief and development efforts.
“They’ve got experience after the earthquake, so now they can go to other areas of the country,” Southern Baptist representative Kelvin Peart* said.
One ministry provided quilts to those who lost their belongings in the earthquake and then again during the monsoon rains and related flooding.
“The project team verified the list of beneficiaries for quilt distribution by door-to-door visits,” ministry director Abdul Ghaffaar* said. “It took more than a month to complete the assessment as access to the 74 small localities scattered in mountains was quite difficult.
“We are thankful to the Lord that He led us through different situations to have practical experience in the mission field, to understand our responsibility and to grow in maturity as the Pakistani church,” Ghaffaar said.
In addition to distributing quilts, the ministry has presented health education programs, provided needed clothing and medicines, taught vocational skills as well as reading and writing to women, and distributed Ramadan food packages to families in need.
That the 2005 earthquake occurred during the month-long Ramadan fast, a time of concentrated worship of Allah, took many Pakistanis by surprise. Their response was that the terrible tremor must be Allah’s judgment, punishment for sin. Most of the Muslim earthquake survivors quickly returned to that which they know -– an Islam in which worship is duty and living or dying is a matter of fate.
The anniversary fell near one of the most important times of the fast, the “night of power.” For Muslims, this night commemorates when the angel Gabriel gave Mohammad his first message from Allah.
“Many Muslims will stay up the entire night praying and seeking revelation from Allah,” Southern Baptist representative Vance Kirker* said.
On this night, Muslims pray to have dreams and visions. Many former Muslims have testified that they had dreams of a man in white who led them to seek a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior.
“Pray for continuous dreams and visions among the Hindko men and women [of northern Pakistan] that would lead them to the pursuit of spiritual truth,” Southern Baptist representative Leah Darcy* said. “Pray for open doors to the Hindko-speaking areas throughout the northern regions, so that the Gospel may continue to penetrate the darkness.”
Many Pakistanis are hearing truth for the first time. In early October, Peart and Ghaffaar shared the Gospel with a Muslim shopkeeper from whom they were purchasing supplies for an upcoming ministry.
“Not only are we doing community development, but it is this -– we get to share on the bus, and we get to share with this guy in his office,” Peart recounted.
Whether in town or on a mountainside, Pakistanis seem increasingly ready to listen to the Word of God, workers said.
“We have endless opportunities to share — in the bazaar, the park and the local hospital,” Southern Baptist representative Yvonne Outland* said. “The only limit is the amount of Christians we have here to share with others.”
As earthquake survivors have shared their experiences of trauma, many have allowed Christians to share with them stories from the Bible that offer them hope.
“They really like the stories,” Teofila said. “In some places, they are really open.”
Southern Baptists are sharing the Gospel with earthquake survivors through personal evangelism and Bible storying, but they also are training Pakistani Christians to be effective witnesses for Jesus.
“Two nationals in different villages have come to Christ and have learned that it is their duty to share with their families and friends,” Outland said. “Please pray for these two nationals as they share with their villages.
“Pray that more national believers, who are the minority in Pakistan, would rise up for Christ and reach out to their lost neighbors.”
*Name changed for security reasons. Goldie Frances is a writer serving in southern Asia.