ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Darren Pogue* is the 16-year-old son of Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries serving in South Asia. In November, Darren spent his fall break ministering among earthquake survivors in Pakistan. These are entries from his personal journal:
Oct. 25, 2005
I’m in Islamabad, the capital, sitting and watching the last of the sun’s rays filter weakly through the smog. It’s been a whirlwind adventure getting here. God’s hand has been in it all the way. He brought me here, so I take comfort in that. He has me here for a reason; it’s part of the plan He has for my life (Jeremiah 29:11).
I flew out Sunday night from Thailand. My family was stressing on me, and I regret the feelings of relief that flooded in as I stepped out of the car into the airport as they drove off. I flew with Reid Godsey*, so thankful to have the company and guidance he provided. God’s hand was in that all the way as well.
I arrived in Islamabad yesterday morning. Yesterday entailed much sitting around, staring dumbly into space while everything seemed to just flow around me. I came here fired up to help, ready to get out there as soon as my feet hit the ground, so I was slightly frustrated and sad and feeling pretty worthless from sitting around all day. Then, early that evening we got word that we’d be pulling out at 2 a.m. to deliver food rations to villagers five hours away. So we packed what we’d need for the day, caught a few hours of sleep, and were off in a caravan of three trucks.
I slept most of the way there and woke to the view of a misty valley, shrouded in the cool mystery of the morning and golden beams of sunlight bouncing off the surrounding hills. It was beautiful, simply astounding. It was hard to imagine such a tragic disaster invading this alpine paradise and bringing life to a halt.
We pulled off into a small lot off the highway. We waited for an hour until the crowd showed up. Then we worked in a hurried frenzy to get green bags of rations handed out to the right people. The hour following was a blur -– grab and heave, grab and heave … “ek (one) piece … panch (five) pieces … Thik hai! (OK!)”
A Muslim-background believer who worked with a few of our team members brought his village down, and we gave the food to them. We hope and pray that those in his village will see him now in a new light and see the love of Christ flowing out to them, the very people who most likely shunned and even persecuted him.
Oct. 26, 2005
Crickets are chirping, mosques blaring, and the air is crisp and cool. We’re three hours north of Islamabad, and I feel like I’ve been all over Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. We pulled out at 9 a.m. We had our packs, gear, and meds all crammed in the back and were eagerly heading out to start doing what we came to do. Little did we know what lay ahead.
We drove three hours to Abbottabad, made a quick pit stop, and then drove another three hours to Balakot. Balakot was the closest city to the epicenter of the quake, and you could tell. The devastation in Balakot was indescribable. For every building left standing, 20 or 30 lay in twisted heaps of rebar and brick. The walls of the buildings either simply turned to dust and pebbles or caved inward so that the roofs lay squarely on top of each mound of rubble. They looked like monoliths, great tables piled artfully yet grotesquely upon their burial mounds. I couldn’t help but wonder about the bodies that lay under the remains and rubble, waiting patiently to be uncovered in the months to come. I can’t imagine the enormous task of cleaning up the area and people getting back to their lives.
Balakot was a main hub for all the NGO (non-government organization), U.N. and military-aid groups in the area. There were tents and uniforms everywhere.
Another shocking scene was literally mounds of clothing strewn about the town. They were piled amongst the rubble, coating the streets in an ankle-deep sea of green, red and yellow wool. Apparently, trucks had haphazardly dumped loads of these donated clothes; winter was fast approaching. The clothes were being trampled and driven over to the point that they were mostly flattened, multi-colored rags. Why people didn’t use it all was beyond me. It was such a waste.
We decided Balakot -– and the valley we were going to hike up to from there –- wasn’t where we were needed. We thought about another valley, so we packed up. We piled back in the van and took off for Muzaffarabad, our stepping-stone to the valley.
Three hours later, we burst out of a high mountain pass and met a panoramic view of the valley. Muzaffarabad lay at the bottom of the valley, shrouded in dust stirred up from the slides and sliced down the middle by a snake-like river. Soon we were among the people in the crowded city, staring at the same scene in Balakot. The destruction seemed worse in Muzaffarabad because the city was built in the steep V-like bottom of the valley, and it was literally crumbling away, all settling at the bottom. Whole sections of road had fallen away. Steep cliffs stood where a row of shops one existed.
A U.S. Army M.A.S.H. unit had set up camp in the middle of town. We went there to see if they could help us find a place to stay or if they knew anything.
We rode into camp and one of the volunteers, an Army medic and ER doctor, went to talk to whoever was in charge. He stepped out of the van and ran straight into the Special Forces liaison, the only SF personnel in the camp. He helped us get a tent to stay in and all the MREs (meals ready to eat, or military rations) we could eat.
The whole stay in the camp is a godsend. God provided for our needs and graciously placed us here and guided us all day. Tonight we prayed. Here in the dark, zipped up snug in our sleeping bags, we lifted prayers and sang a song of worship to our God that rose from our hearts and rang out over the camp. I fall asleep lifting thanks to the God whose love and faithfulness never fails.
Oct. 27, 2005
Today was a waste of time. It seemed that way for us. From about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. we were in the van, running blindly all over northern Pakistan. We woke up cold and damp from the dew and quickly tore into some MREs. Spaghetti and meatballs was strangely delicious for breakfast, but I guess anything would be when you’re that hungry. We then gathered before we took off. We lifted up the day to God and proclaimed His complete control over us and our faith in His plan for us. We prayed for ears to hear His direction, eyes to see where He’s working and help to guide us to where we were needed. We asked for a hedge of protection around us and the power of God to lead us on –- with Satan bound, rebuked and powerless. Our battles weren’t against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Little did we know how true that was to become.
We went to a helipad to catch a ride on a Pakistan Army chopper. We waited and waited while the volunteer and Louis negotiated with the colonel. The pad was buzzing with action. Five choppers came in while we waited, and Geneva Red Cross people ran this way and that around the field hospital. It turned out we couldn’t catch a bird there and had to go 30 minutes away to the airport. It was then that the frustration that would plague us all day began to seep in like some cold virus.
At the airport, more waiting. They kept trying to send us on down to another valley that, according to them, was in great need of our medical team. So we sat down together, talked for awhile and felt that it wasn’t coincidence that the valley kept coming up in their conversation and that they wouldn’t let us on a bird. It was a God thing. So we left, heading for the other valley, two hours away.
We got there and found that a full setup of doctors were there and no need for us. So we were frustrated and weary and anxious to get working, yet had no work to do. We piled back into the van again and started driving so that we could, tomorrow, go back to Balakot and begin something that resembled our original plan.
It took five hours on a horribly winding road. We got here just as darkness was setting in and made camp at a house. I have no idea why God took us through today. I’m sort of numb and dazed, too tired to be frustrated anymore. It felt like a wild goose chase, and I’m running out of time in Pakistan. I’m eager, yet weary, and I don’t want to get in another car for a good while. Tomorrow is another day, and God is faithful. He’s in control, and He has a plan.
Oct. 28, 2005
Up at 5:30, I was out the door with nothing for warmth but my jogging pants and long-sleeve Lycra shirt. It was freezing outside, probably literally, but I figured a few minutes into my run, it’d warm up.
After breakfast, we sat around in the living room, and the volunteer led us in a devotion on sacrifice. We bid the volunteer good-bye and good luck. This time, instead of the van, we loaded up everything into Land Cruisers and pulled out. We drove the same route we did three days before, but we turned and made our way up and out of one valley.
We passed into another valley, and soon the road turned to no road at all, but more like two paths running parallel, snaking down to the little villages that dotted the hillside. We pulled into a small town –- or what was left of it –- and were met with the most devastation we’d seen yet.
Continuing for about 30 minutes, we pulled off the road at a small village and set up camp. After camp was situated and a large gathering of onlookers and patients were milling around, we discovered there was plenty of medicine, but most of the wound-care gear didn’t get packed. This led to an afternoon of panicked frustration. We didn’t have essentials, such as peroxide, alcohol and saline, which made for a difficult day.
We did, however, treat many patients -– everything from broken ribs to stomach problems and infected wounds. Because of the lack of doctors (only one doctor and one nurse on our team), Clay* and I pulled on gloves and dived right in. I assisted, handing gauze and cleaning tools, and worked alongside Mason* delivering first aid. We cleaned and scraped many wounds during the few hours of remaining light.
Finally, after the sun disappeared behind the ridge and the biting cold began to settle in with us for the night, the day was over. There had been about 30 patients, ranging from little children to the old and decrepit. It was incredible to see how thankful the village was. On into the evening, men came by asking if we wanted food or chai (milk tea), and the few that still had houses asked if we wanted to stay at their house. One even brought firewood and built a roaring fire, which we sat around while trying to translate Urdu and English jokes and having a good time with some of the men there.
Praise to our God for He is good. He was with us all throughout the day and even in the midst of our need, He provided for us. Around 8 p.m., an American-Pakistani doctor came driving down the road, coming down out of the hills. He asked if we needed anything. He had medicine in his jeep and didn’t have a need for it. We got many things from him that will make tomorrow go much smoother, including gloves, disinfectant, antibiotics and endless rolls of bandages. He also promised to contact Aunt Josie, who had gone down to try to get supplies. He said he could give us even more –- boxes and boxes of gloves –- from his team’s supply there. God is good.
Oct. 29, 2005
It felt like the world had gone completely crazy as we lay shaking in our tents. I was wakened by a violent shaking and trembling from a tremor at around 2:30 a.m. This one was pretty strong and had plenty of power to strike a good amount of fear in me. (We later discovered it was a 5.5 with the epicenter only a couple dozen kilometers south of us.) At first, I had no idea what it was, being half-asleep and having never experienced an earthquake. But soon I rose into full consciousness as the tremor lasted for what felt like hours, but was really only a few seconds.
In the hours following, there were about four small tremors along with an eruption of howling dogs, rockslides and eerie chanting or desperate prayers echoing across the valley. To put it frankly, I was scared. I couldn’t sleep. I kept waiting for the next tremor to hit, the one that would be bigger than anything I’d felt before. The cries of the villagers and their dogs didn’t help calm my nerves. It’s a scary feeling, lying on what seems to be solid ground, yet you’re tense and wondering when the next one will hit. We were in a relatively safe site, and fear of landslides pouring off the mountain wall on top of us wasn’t too great.
Before each of the tremors hit, I could hear a rumbling below the surface. It sounded like thunder and came from what felt like deep below the mountain. It felt like we were in a flimsy wooden house and someone was dropping heavy weights on the floor, causing everything to shake.
Finally I fell back to sleep and awoke at 6 to discover a piercing cold morning with a beef ravioli MRE waiting for me. Even before I’d finished breakfast, people began to trickle over to our camp and sit to watch us. We quickly set up for the day, armed and ready with fresh supplies. Then we said a prayer of commitment and dependence and praise and then ushered people forward for treatment.
Today I teamed up with Mason again, and we began taking care of the wounds. I assisted a lot, giving him what he needed, holding this and that, and preparing the bandages and wraps. But before I knew it, I was cleaning and dressing right alongside him. It seemed that I was able to do a quarter of the wounds we saw.
For the most part, we saw small children, and it was heartbreaking. While working, I didn’t have time to stop and “feel” and process at a heart level what was going on. Afterward, however, what I saw and what we had to do –- and the children that came to us in that village -– created an aching pain inside me, simply heartbreaking.
I saw some pretty bad stuff. There were many head wounds, mostly highly infected. Working on them involved a lot of tears and a lot of cutting, scraping, cleaning and draining. Horrible stuff, but I was never overwhelmed by the urge to look away. There was, however, a lot of groaning on my part, but mostly I lodged it all in the back of my mind to be dealt with and felt later, at a more convenient time.
That day was hard. It was a day with just a 30-minute break and a lot of stress. At the end of the day, I was spent physically and emotionally.
Oct. 30, 2005
I’m sitting on a plane heading for Bangkok and I’m wondering where the week went. It feels like I just touched down in Islamabad, yet in a surreal sort of way, it feels like I’d been there for months. Amazing the way time plays tricks on your mind, and not only that, but especially on your heart.
I’m tired and fighting dozing off as I sit here writing, but I want to capture my thoughts and feelings before they’re gone, like a gray mist passing through my straining fingers. It’s been an incredible week. I’ve experienced something not many people my age –- or any age for that matter -– have, and I could have never put this trip together and made it happen, or even dreamt it up. God provided it. I simply hung on as He took me places and showed me things I never thought I’d see. Three weeks ago, I planned on lounging around for the school break, doing my own thing. How awesome it feels to be playing a role with a much higher purpose in a story so much greater than my own!
How blessed we are that we have an eternal hope, made possible by the blood of Christ. I teared up this morning thinking of all Christ has done and shown me in this last week. They were tears of joy and thanksgiving and wonder at how good He is to me. I pray now that I search after Christ with every last bit of my heart, with that end goal, that treasure in mind, persevering through the hope He’s given me.
What am I to do in response to this trip? How is my life going to be different? This is a difficult question because it puts me on the spot to bring down these abstract ideas and experiences to a level of everyday life.
I saw some bad things during my time in Pakistan, tough things to deal with. I saw entire villages completely destroyed. I saw hungry people crowding desperately around our distribution truck. I saw orphans and widows and poor children with horrible wounds. I saw infection like no one would believe -– wounds so deep, tissue and skull were exposed.
It hurts to think of what’s going on in that country and the immensity of it all. Numbers are cold and meaningless until they’re combined with the faces seen on a personal level, when you look them in the eyes and see the tears shed from having their lives go down in the rubble that surrounds them. So the question still stands, what am I to do?
I’ve seen what state Pakistan is in, and I know the devastation; but I also know that God is there, working and active. We must pray for the work going on there. There are thousands upon thousands of broken hearts there, searching desperately for something. What that is, they don’t know, but they’re searching all the same.
Thanks and praise and all glory be given to Christ, who meets our needs and is always faithful to pull through for us!
I felt many things in the course of this week. I felt frustration and discouragement. I felt fear and terror. I felt anger and the pain of a hurt pride. I also felt joy and deep awe. Many things, but none have lasted longer or been taken away with me more than the piercing pain and compassion I felt for those I saw and those we treated, those who I actually touched and worked on.
It’s hard to walk away from tragedy like that and not feel a thing. In the overwhelming wave of feelings that rushed in as I was plunged into torn and battered Pakistan, I felt helpless, a small force charging against a great army. I still feel like I didn’t do much. But now, in the wake of the week past, I see I was right where I needed to be. I have confidence that what was done was not in vain. I may never know what the significance was of me going there. I’m not asked to know and understand, but to be obedient to the call placed on my heart. All power is in Him and comes through Him. I would be in vain if I went about it by myself, in my own selfish dependence on myself and man. Without Christ, it’s all nothing.
I can now only pray that seeds planted will be tended to. I find joy in that I was used and served a role of something going on higher than that of my own little world. I find joy in that in serving Christ, we served these people and that hearts were touched. I wonder what the fathers and mothers of the children felt as we patched up their children, treated their illnesses, and cared for them. I can remember the baby we worked on, whose father held him tightly in his arms as the baby cried into his chest. I wonder what he felt after seeing the skin of his son’s head torn off by debris from the earthquake and his scull exposed. I then wonder what he felt after his son’s wound was cleaned and dressed and he was sent on his way, possibly saving the child’s life. I wonder what they felt.
Those were the people we were there for. They were the reason we were brought all over northern Pakistan and then finally led to their valley. And I thank God He included me in it.
*Names changed for security reasons.