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In Pakistani winter, Baptists bring hope to quake survivors

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Before Oct. 8, Hadia* had a husband to care for her and a home to shelter her six children. Then, in those few moments that the earth shook, her life changed drastically. Hadia became both widowed and homeless.

As winter weather threatened to compound her tragedy, Hadia also was losing hope -– until Southern Baptists built her a temporary home, what they call a model home.

“Over the past two months, a wonderful partnership between the compassionate giving of Southern Baptists in the U.S. and the sacrificial service of International Mission Board personnel on the ground have resulted in ministry to thousands of displaced Pakistanis and Indians,” said David Garrison, the IMB’s regional leader for South Asia.

“Many of the victims of October’s earthquake are having their first encounter with the Gospel in the person of Southern Baptists bringing the Gospel to life in service to them,” Garrison said. “On behalf of the missionaries serving in this earthquake-devastated region, I want to thank Southern Baptists for their prayers, contributions and personal involvement.”

Officials estimate that the 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed 73,000 people and left about 2.8 million homeless in Pakistan. Another 1,300 people died in India, where 150,000 are homeless.

“There are widows over here who have nobody to take care of them,” volunteer Jesse Smith, a wheat farmer from Kansas, said. “That is something the Twelve told us to do, to take care of the widows and orphans. They are here, and they are in need.”

About 185 people died in the Pakistani mountainside village where Hadia lives. When the quake struck, her husband was away in Balakot, a city devastated by the quake. They did not find his body until eight days later.

After the model shelter was built, Hadia and her children, ranging from age 6 to 20, went to bed in a temporary, but warmly insulated, home.

When local Pakistanis lend a hand, Southern Baptists can build temporary homes such as Hadia’s in a single day. After building Hadia’s, they went to another village to erect a temporary shelter and leave materials for Pakistanis to build the next one.

“We are trying to teach them how to build them,” volunteer Glenn Davis, a pastor from Kansas, said. “We use sandbags and fill them with dirt and stack up the walls and then put a tin roof on it.”

Each shelter is 13 by 10 feet, and Pakistanis can build them with the dirt from their original earthen homes and rice or flour sacks, Southern Baptist worker Brent Tinsley* said.

“This is new construction for me,” said Chris Seay, a general contractor from Alabama. “Once they see them, everyone in the village wants one. We are trying to build a model in several villages. We try to point out to them that we would really like to take care of the widows first, and so far, they are in agreement with that.”

Building temporary homes is just one of the many ways Southern Baptists are helping earthquake survivors.

“Because of the funds being sent through the human needs office, we have been able to distribute literally tons of food, blankets and tents to the survivors,” Southern Baptist worker Josie Gabdon* said. “In addition, we’ve been able to send medical teams to remote valleys.

“But there is a huge need still ahead -– helping people survive the harsh winter,” she said. “Many who have been affected and who live in remote villages still have not received help. Without winterized tents, food and blankets, the reality is that many will perish this winter.”

Southern Baptists are providing medical care -– treating abscessed teeth, tonsillitis, severe kidney stones and other ailments -– in villages that have no access to medical facilities. The United Nations reports that a few cold-related deaths from pneumonia and hypothermia already have occurred.

“The challenges that are still ahead are the coming harsher winter and affiliated sickness that will result from both exposure in the mountainous areas and overcrowded conditions in some of the camps where some people have taken up temporary residence,” said Philip Monroe*, a Southern Baptist disaster relief specialist serving in Asia. “We can expect to begin to see the spread of respiratory sickness in both settings.”

With gifts given through the World Hunger Fund, Southern Baptists also are distributing much-needed kitchen sets for families, waterproof tents for school buildings, candles, matches, blankets and shawls. One day recently a team got up early to load trucks with food to provide flour, sugar, lentils and other staples to 300 families in one Pakistani village and 400 families in another village –- just one of many food distributions Southern Baptists have provided to date.

Southern Baptists also helped a family of about 15 Pakistani women who had to come down from the mountains. They are now living in poor conditions with no income.

“They had mentioned before that if they had a sewing machine, they would sew,” Southern Baptist worker Christina Tgh said. “We took them the sewing machine and some cloth, and they were really grateful for that.”

Southern Baptists also are helping to reestablish clean water sources, Monroe said.

“Our people are doing effective work that is meeting real needs,” he said. “Many of the larger organizations, like the United Nations, World Vision and the Red Cross, are trying to assist the people as much as possible, but there are often smaller pockets of helpless people who are overlooked. We cannot possibly focus upon the larger population, so we are trying to do effective work on a smaller scale.”

Southern Baptist workers have adopted an area in Pakistan where they are providing food rations with a plan to provide needed shelter, food and blankets through the winter and seeds for planting in the spring, Gabdon said.

“Many of their animals died, so we are looking into a program for providing a couple of animals to each family,” she said. “For these people, animals are their wealth.”

As Southern Baptists and Christian partners offer physical help, they also have opportunities to extend spiritual help.

“We had a group of ladies here from the States that did trauma counseling with 250 women in a tent village,” Southern Baptist worker Worth Ballinger* said. “They not only did trauma counseling in a big group, they also went into the tents of many women and drank chai [milk tea] and prayed for their families. They have also worked with the children there and worked in mountain villages and schools, building relationships and sharing the love of Christ.”

God’s hand is evident in every conversation and every relationship, Tgh said. Some of the victims are searching for understanding and realizing that the people who are responding to their needs, treating them with integrity and crying with them, are showing them God, she said.

Mumtaz*, for example, has always appreciated foreigners and likes English. After the earthquake, someone gave him a Bible, and he is reading it regularly.

“He keeps it in plain view at his workplace,” Ballinger said. “I asked him the other day about this Bible and he said it is ‘from heaven, and it is God’s Word. My friends tell me not to read it, but I tell them to be quiet.’ This is a man who has been working with us from the start and we hope soon he will make a decision to follow Christ.”

In India, Southern Baptist workers have established continuing ministry in two of the villages where they offered earthquake relief.

“As we distributed supplies, we told people that we did this because of what Christ had done for us, and we were able to pray with them in His name,” Southern Baptist worker Yvette Wray* said. “We plan to distribute shawls, as well as some staple items, to the widows of the two villages before Christmas. We will also tell the story of Christ’s birth. If it had not been for the earthquake relief effort, we would not have had this ministry opportunity.”

But how long the window of opportunity will remain open is unknown, workers said.

“God’s ways are beyond searching out, and even devastating events like this can open doors that otherwise would never be open,” Davis said.

Southern Baptists need to take advantage of the opportunity now to show God’s love, he said.

“Pray for the hearts and souls of the people over here,” Seay said, “that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and they would recognize that He is their true Savior.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Goldie Frances is a missionary writer serving in the South Asia region. For more information about current and future volunteer needs in earthquake relief in Pakistan, e-mail [email protected]. Video: See how the first team of Southern Baptist volunteers helped the earthquake victims of Pakistan here.

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  • Goldie Frances*