NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A thousand families in Bangladesh, apparently overlooked in relief efforts after Cyclone Sidr struck the country Nov. 15, have received clothing and blankets to help them through the winter, paid for by Southern Baptist relief gifts.
Millions of people were left homeless by the storm, which was the most powerful cyclone to strike the area in 15 years, according to the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. More than 3,000 people were killed and 871 — the vast majority women and children — are still missing.
To date, Baptist Global Response, the Southern Baptist development and relief organization, has approved almost $121,000 for the effort in Bangladesh. About $61,000 of that came from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund; the rest was general relief funds.
In mid-December, Southern Baptist workers and their field partners were conducting a relief distribution in one village when they met a young man who told them the only relief families in his village had received was some rice dropped off by the Bangladesh government, said Francis Horton, Baptist Global Response area director for Central and Southern Asia.
“There was widespread damage in this village, but it is located across a river from the main road and it seems most relief organizations have not wanted to make that crossing,” Horton said. “This young man not only told us about the need, he showed us. He had done a very good job of surveying his village and had a complete database of the needs of the families there. We were impressed with his work and agreed to help in some way.”
The young man said the biggest need in the village was for blankets and clothing to help make it through the cold season, so Horton went to the district capital to buy the goods and make arrangements to transport them to the village.
“We told a clothing merchant what we were doing, and the man, who is a Muslim, told us, ‘You are doing something very good for our people, so I will do something for you,'” Horton recounted. “He then gave us a very nice discount on the cost of the clothing.”
Four local believers joined the Horton family and Southern Baptist partners from the capital, Dhaka, at the village for the distribution.
“We packed the relief goods as the boat sputtered down the river,” Horton said. “When we arrived, the recipients were already waiting in very orderly lines. Two Bengali soldiers were there to help maintain order.”
The relief effort made a positive impression on local leaders, Horton said.
“The members of the local town council were all very supportive of the effort. They made several comments about how well things were handled and how much everyone appreciated the clothing and blankets,” Horton said. “I’m grateful that Southern Baptists care enough to reach out to help people in need.”
Three weeks earlier, Horton’s team had set out to locate a Baptist church they had heard about but Baptist partners in Bangladesh didn’t know existed.
“We traveled down a road that was like driving over really old and bad cobblestone until the road ended, then went a little farther until the path was too small for the vehicle,” Horton said. “Then we walked for about 15 minutes, asking along the way about the church we were looking for.
“We found the church. The pastor and about 30 others were there,” he said. “We visited with them and prayed together, then walked about a mile to look at a levy damaged by the storm. Then he said, ‘Give me two more minutes and I will show you something.’
“Well, it turned out to actually be more like 30 or 40 minutes, but we walked until we arrived at a large tree that was maybe 500 yards from the Bay of Bengal.
“The pastor told us that when the storm was coming inland, people in the village saw the water level rising and knew something bad was coming. They ran to this tree, climbed up into its branches and waited for the water to recede. In the end, 150 people were saved by climbing the tree.
“We had a nice time of fellowship with these brothers and sisters,” Horton said. “The pastor told us, ‘We knew someone would come to check on us. We are encouraged just by you coming here.'”
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn. Information about donating to the Southern Baptist world hunger and general relief funds can be found on the Baptist Global Response website, gobgr.org.