PATNA, India (BP)–Waiting anxiously for relief packets that would keep their families alive another few days, famished villagers braved swiftly moving, chest-high water to crowd around the small wooden boat.
Floodwaters had forced most of these people onto rooftops or onto stretches of raised land, and the small packets were the only food they had to eat in three or four days.
A group of 12-15 Indian Christians traveled 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) by boat to reach 1,000 families cut off by floods that ransacked the state of Bihar this monsoon season. As rains fell and melting snow from the Himalayas caused rivers to rise, vast amounts of water raced through Bihar. Roads and entire villages were washed away, sometimes with little warning.
Many people were marooned with few provisions. Some were able to stash provisions on rooftops, but for a society that lives off the land from day to day, floods mean devastation and possible death. In the midst of Bihar’s severest floods in living memory, the small group of Christians banded together to provide relief to the stranded families who otherwise may have faced starvation before the floodwaters recede.
Christians are few in number in the northern Indian state of Bihar. Elvin Trueb*, an international Christian serving in Bihar, said believers comprise 0.015 percent of Bihar’s population of more than 83 million. This fact, however, did not prevent the local believers from aiding some of Bihar’s most desperate flood survivors.
With half the state flooded (about the area of Georgia), livelihoods as well as homes have been buried under 20 feet of water in some places.
“There’s not really any kind of disaster relief or disaster management plan in Bihar,” Trueb explained. “In the newspaper here, there are stories about some relief being done in some really badly hit areas. The government will fly a helicopter and throw out packets of food. In one case, they threw 40 or so packets of food out on the road for a village. There can be sometimes 10,000 people in a village here, so these folks are fighting over these packets of food. Some packets are missing the road; they’re going in the water and people are jumping in and then dying because they can’t swim. They are desperate for food, but the government here just isn’t equipped.”
When a couple of Indian church planters realized the desperate plight of so many villagers, they asked Trueb to help organize a relief effort.
“Fortunately,” Trueb said, “through Baptist relief, we have the resources to do something. Even though there are not a lot of local resources at our disposal, God gave us what we needed and what we’d be able to handle.
“First, we went and did a survey. We went out, took a look around and saw what the condition was. When we got there, an entire road had been washed out to this one village, and even while we were out there, the water was rising pretty rapidly.”
Next, they worked out a plan to go by boat to get food packets to an estimated 1,000 families from four villages. “The idea was that the local church planters would be the ones to distribute the packets,” Trueb said. “They’re the ones whose standing will be raised in the community…. In the future, they will be able to share the Gospel freely in that area and give us access, give the Gospel access to places it hasn’t been before.”
The local Christians put together 1,000 packets with food items to provide the maximum amount of nourishment possible in a packet that was easy to deliver.
“We delivered 14 kilograms [31 pounds] per packet,” Trueb recounted. “The packet consisted of ‘chura,’ a pre-cooked, flattened rice product that is ready to eat. So it had 5 kilograms [11 pounds] of chura. It had ‘suttu,’ which is a high-protein source made from a type of nut. Then there was some sugar, salt, matches and candles, and also crackers, known as biscuits in India.
“The average family here is about five or six people,” Trueb said. “If they’re frugal with it, it will probably last them for a few days or maybe a few more than that.”
In three days, the Christians purchased, packaged and distributed the relief supplies.
“The first place we went was a pretty poor area, some low-caste people,” Trueb recounted. “They were so thankful to receive those packets.
“The second place, we had to stay in the water the whole time. Everyone who wanted a packet had to walk to us in the water. Some of the currents were pretty swiftly flowing, and the water was about four feet deep. People took their packets on their heads home through the water. No relief had come to them yet, so they were really in the position where they needed it. You could see the desperation in their faces. It was really good to see that the local believers were able to make a big difference.”
For the second phase of the relief plan, the Christians plan to return to the families after about a week with more supplies.
“We’re going to go back … with materials they can cook, because they’re still going to be in the same situation in a week or so,” Trueb said. “They’re not going to be able to go out and plow the fields and work the land. Who knows when the floods will recede, but even so, food will remain scarce. Hopefully, they will at least be able to cook food by that time.”
The next packets will contain 24 kilograms (53 pounds) of rice, lentils and other food that the survivors can cook.
These items will last longer than the initial emergency packets, with Trueb noting, “They may be able to go seven to 10 days off of that.”
Without the work of the local believers, none of the relief efforts would have been possible, Trueb said. They were the ones who took the responsibility of getting the supplies where they needed to go.
“They want to see this relief come to their people,” he said. “They obviously love Christ, so they love others.”
The benefits of this effort were twofold for the Indian Christians. Because of their hearts for their people, they were able to save lives. The hope is that by bringing their people the temporary gift of life-sustaining food, they later will be able to offer them the spiritual gift of eternal life through Jesus.
“Their credibility really rises in the eyes of the village leaders and in the eyes of the community,” Trueb said. “When the flood is over within a couple of months, they can go back in and share the Gospel and pretty much do it unhindered. No one is going to give them a hard time, because they know that they were the ones who brought these boats….
“This local church is not very large,” Trueb reflected in noting that “Jesus fed the 5,000; these 12 to 15 believers fed 5,000” via the 1,000 food packets they delivered to desperate families of five or six people. “That’s pretty amazing.”
*Name changed for security reasons. Kari Wynn is a writer serving in southern Asia.