ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–On the first anniversary of Pakistan’s October 2005 earthquake, politicians cut ribbons at ceremonies and Christians gathered in prayer, while most survivors of the tragedy spent the day getting on with their lives.
They were cutting grass for their animals to eat, clearing roads of recent landslides, harvesting corn, building walls of stone and hand-mixed cement, driving their livestock south for the upcoming winter, buying and selling vegetables, sweeping out their tents.
Few in the mountain villages were even aware of the Oct. 8 minute of silence at 8:52 a.m. to memorialize their dead.
Government officials estimate the 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and left about 3 million homeless. In neighboring India, the quake killed another 1,300 people and rendered about 150,000 people homeless.
A year later, the graves lay silent — not neglected, but far from celebrated -– as tens of thousands of earthquake survivors face a second winter without adequate food or shelter -– or any assurance of salvation.
“What concerns me is that people are a little bit better off than they were last year, but not much,” Southern Baptist representative Brent Tinsley* said. “It was an answer to prayer last year that it was a mild winter. This could be a severe winter. I know the rains were severe and it caused a lot of problems.”
Heavy rains caused landslides that blocked roadways much of the summer and into the fall. Pakistanis say the heavy rains and an elongated hot season indicate this winter will be harsh.
“It’s just going to be a hard, cold winter,” Southern Baptist representative Doris Austen* said. “There’s going to be a lot of respiratory illness. I can’t see that anybody’s got shelter. Everyone is still in temporary [tin] sheets and wood.”
In general, earthquake survivors are still without basic needs, Tinsley said.
“People are just going on with determination that, ‘This is our lot that has been handed to us,’” he said. “Things haven’t changed. The folks that I know, none of their houses have been rebuilt. They just don’t have the means.”
Many people who lost their homes are still waiting for a second payment from the Pakistani government before they begin to rebuild. The first payment they received was for 25,000 rupees, about $420.
Earthquake survivors, however, are not talking much about government payments, rebuilding or winter weather. Foremost on their minds is when the next big quake will hit.
“People are still concerned,” Southern Baptist representative Worth Ballinger* said. “It’s just a fear, a big fear. They need His hope. They need the security of knowing that God loves them, that He cares for them and that He knows what’s best for them.”
Christians visiting remote villages on Oct. 7, 2006, were told by local women that the earth shook twice about 10 p.m. Oct. 6. Nearly everywhere the Christian women visited, they heard the same story. In one village on Oct. 9, they were told that a “medium earthquake” hit there at 9 p.m. the previous night.
“Our hearts were sinking, because we were afraid,” said Shaira,* a 55-year-old grandmother. “I was washing a big cooking pot when I saw the front of the house [tin shelter] leaning toward me, and I shouted that an earthquake was coming. The small children are not afraid, but I am afraid.”
In the past month, the U.S. Geological Survey office has registered numerous earthquakes in the region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India ranging from 3.6 to 5.1 magnitude. But none likely would have been felt in the area where the women live on the days they complained of tremors. The last to hit Pakistan were 4.4 and 3.9 in magnitude Sept. 25.
The Christians comforted the women they visited with shared tears, warm embraces, listening hearts and encouraging stories from the Bible.
“I am telling her that God loves her, and she is brokenhearted,” Miriam*, a Pakistani Christian, explained as she wrapped her arms around the crying Gujjar woman.
Relationships built during the past year give these Christians the right –- the invitation -– to share, women with women and men with men. Southern Baptist representatives, international volunteers and national partners have ministered by distributing food to earthquake survivors, teaching them how to build sturdy temporary shelters, treating their illnesses, providing school supplies for their children, helping them replace livestock and regain their livelihoods.
“Thank you, Southern Baptists, for being Christ’s representatives this past year in the earthquake-ravaged mountains of northern Pakistan,” said David Garrison, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s regional leader for southern Asia. “When an earthquake struck this remote corner of South Asia one year ago, leaving victims without food, water and shelter, Southern Baptists were quick to respond. That response has brought hope to millions living in this region.”
Jesus is the hope Southern Baptists continue to bring to Muslim earthquake survivors.
“We have done a lot of disaster relief,” Ballinger said. “What we want to do now is just go beyond that short-term relief and really help people with eternal relief, with eternal help. You talk to them, and you see the bleakness of their faith. Pray for their eternal security. That can’t be shaken by anything.”
Southern Baptists concluded earthquake relief work in Pakistan at the end of July, but they continue to help earthquake survivors through a variety of projects that have spun from the initial quake relief, said Thad Crisler*, the disaster relief coordinator for the IMB’s South Asia region.
“In the last 25 years, there have been a little over 1,400 disasters around the world that required some kind of disaster response,” Crisler said. “Three-quarters of those were in two general areas of the world -– Asia and South America. Disasters are a way of life for Asian people, and we need to make it part of our way of life to respond to them -– filling real absolute needs, but also being ready to fill spiritual needs.”
The quake’s devastation greatly affected several people groups. Christians have shared the Gospel in word and deed among individuals from populace. Many are hearing the Good News for the first time in their lives.
“I was with a volunteer team of ladies that had the opportunity to address a group of about 250 women who were from historically very closed areas,” Crisler said. “One volunteer shared her heart and Jesus Christ with these ladies. Afterward, many asked for prayer. People have worked in the country for decades dreaming of an opportunity such as this. This was not only people from a closed area but women from a closed area. Women are the unreached of the unreached.”
Even today, the love of Christ exhibited by the gifts and volunteer efforts of Southern Baptists continues to offer relief to these Pakistani disaster victims, Garrison said.
“May God bless you, Southern Baptists, for your prayers, your sacrificial giving, your willingness to send and your willingness to go in Jesus’ name.”
*Names changed for security reasons. “mPak Pakistan” invites churches to adopt specific districts in Pakistan to share the love of God with Pakistanis, through various levels of involvement, even without ever traveling to the country. Churches interested in knowing more about how to get involved should e-mail ImpactPakistan@wigtake.org.