NEPAL (BP) — Notes of a praise song carried from one end of the field to another. As the song ended, another started from a different direction. The two singing churches provided a sense of peace amidst the screams of neighbors sitting in open fields seeking a safe place from the aftershocks and tremors a day after Nepal’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake.
The quake hit April 25 just 50 miles outside the capital city of Kathmandu and reached as far as India, Bangladesh and the Chinese region of Tibet. It was the strongest in the region in more than 80 years, killing more than 4,000 people, injuring more than 7,000 and leveling buildings and homes. The death toll continues to rise as rescue efforts expand from the cities to the countryside.
Aftershocks continue to rock the area. The largest hit the afternoon of April 26, registering 6.7 in magnitude and causing panic and fear for thousands of locals and tourists packing the streets and open fields of Kathmandu. Government officials advised everyone to stay outside until their homes and buildings can be checked.
International Mission Board President David Platt shared in a statement to Baptist Press, “My heart immediately broke the moment I heard about the earthquake in Nepal,” he said. “Over the last several years, God has given me a unique burden for the peoples of this country. Just over a year ago, I found myself walking amidst the villages in those Himalayan mountains, and as I see reports from those areas now, I cannot get the people I met or faces I encountered out of my mind. Along with many others, I now found myself crying out to God and pleading for His power, mercy, rescue, and redemption to be manifest in unmistakable ways during these days.
“In light of the lack of gospel access in so much of Nepal, seeing urgent physical and spiritual needs collide like this is overwhelming,” Platt said. “Like the falling of the tower of Siloam in Luke’s Gospel, this earthquake is a fresh reminder of the urgent need for God’s people to hasten in getting the gospel to peoples all around the world. … I want to exhort the global church to seize this opportunity to pray more fervently, give more sacrificially, and go more urgently to the peoples of Nepal.”
A Christian worker said local churches and believers are responding as the “hub” for the communities by providing access to shelter, clean water and food. People constructed tents from poles and tarps or anything that would provide protection from the cold night and possible rains. Even a group of volunteers from a North Carolina Baptist church joined the ranks of those sleeping outside their hotels. The volunteer team is reported to be “shaken up, but fine” and helping with immediate needs around them.
“Some pastors and discipleship trainers’ homes were damaged and even destroyed yesterday, yet they are taking care of their community,” the worker said. About 30 people are staying in the field near the area where their team pitched tents. “Each time there is a tremor, everyone screams. We had earthquakes all night and much of the day.”
Like most of the Christian population in Nepal — about one percent of a 28.8 million mostly Hindu nation — the worker and her husband were at church when the earthquake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time. The power went out, followed by a long and violent tremor. Panic ensued, and people in the church began to pray and cry out to the Lord for their protection and safety. The congregation ran to the one and only exit.
“We stood up and had time to hang onto each other but were then thrown to the ground,” she said. “I would describe trying to get out like being on a trampoline with people carrying it and you’re trying to walk from one side of it to the other — completely off-centered and unsettling, nearly impossible. We both prayed, ‘Lord, please let us get out of this building.’”
Another Christian worker compared her exit from the building to surfing on waves instead of walking on solid ground.
In a rural church gathering miles away, the same thing was happening. The quake hit in the middle of the closing prayer, but the outcome was not as good as it was for those in the other church. In addition to massive damage, injuries and fatalities were reported.
“I just got an update that 17 dead bodies have been found in this church which we have trained and supported,” a local discipleship trainer said via Facebook. “We appreciate your prayers for this church. … Pray for the pastor, his family and the whole church family. The pastor lost three of his own family members.”
BGR assessing needs
Baptist Global Response, the Southern Baptist humanitarian organization, has announced plans to send a team to assess and meet the needs of victims in Nepal. The first response is expected to include basic survival needs like water, shelter, food and healthcare.
Volunteer groups that work with BGR received Sphere Project Training in February, focused on meeting victims’ needs during humanitarian crises.
The damage to rural areas has yet to be added to the news reports and death toll. Roads are damaged, and getting to these areas is difficult. Government officials estimate 80 percent of the houses in rural areas have been destroyed. The quake occurred at a depth of 9.3 miles, which is considered shallow and more damaging than a deeper quake. News from remote areas near the quake’s epicenter, where many more may have died, has been scant. International Christian workers warn that the days to come might be the hardest as reports continue to come in.
“The rural village homes will be damaged far beyond repair, and the death toll at this point is probably limited to the city centers,” a Christian worker said. “All of the places where we work in … it’s devastating to think about what they are experiencing.”
Refugee ministry in U.S.
The Refugee Sewing Society, a nonprofit Southern Baptist ministry to women refugees living in the Atlanta area, serves about 25 women, many of whom came from Nepal, society founder Cathy Palmer told Baptist Press. The women fled to Nepal from Bhutan nearly 20 years ago and lived in refugee camps for more than 15 years before coming to the U.S. They now are learning to sew, make crafts and jewelry, and sell their products through the society.
“I have a bunch of very upset ladies,” Palmer said. “They all have ties to Kathmandu, so they’re all extremely upset about what they’re seeing. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, none of our family members were killed in the actual earthquake itself.”
Most are Hindus and Buddhist and do not read nor write their own language, and have difficulty learning English, even though ESL is taught. Still, the women enjoy hearing about Jesus and His love, Palmer said.
“We always try to point back to Christ, but it’s very hard to do, certainly because of the language barrier. But I was able to talk this morning to the women about the Southern Baptist disaster group that’s going in there and telling them this was my church. They understand, and of course we talk about Jesus all the time,” Palmer said. “We do a lot of listening, care and comfort, as always, sharing the hope that we have. … Those who believe in Jesus have the hope, the certainty of living in a perfect world after this world. …
“I periodically hear someone shout out hallelujah, or thank you God, because we regularly say that whenever something goes well.”
Christian workers are asking believers in the U.S. to join them in prayer:
— Pray for basic shelter, water and food. These necessities are a high priority right now since no one is allowed back in their homes. The nights are cold, and monsoon season can start any day.
— Pray for God’s people to deeply know His comfort and peace during this time. Pray they will share the Gospel with those around them.
— Pray for people in Nepal and surrounding areas during the continuing aftershocks and aftermath of this disaster. Southern Baptist assessment teams were scheduled to begin surveying the damage today [April 27].
— Thank God for the safety of the North Carolina volunteer team and other Christian workers. Pray for their stamina as they minister to those around them.
To learn more, go to https://gobgr.org/.