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Quake relief leads hundreds of Taiwanese to faith in Christ

TIONG-LIAU, Taiwan (BP)–Hundreds of people have placed their trust in Jesus as Christian partners have ministered in the aftermath of Taiwan’s strongest earthquake in a century.

One worker said they have found a tremendous openness to the gospel and believe they not only will be able to help people rebuild their lives but also will see churches started where none existed before.

Southern Baptist missionaries, their Taiwanese Baptist co-workers and other evangelical Christians, working under the umbrella of the Chinese Christian Relief Association, set up 17 relief centers in central Taiwan after the Sept. 21 quake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale.

“The openness to the gospel in this area is remarkable. It has been so evident that God is mightily at work here,” said Southern Baptist missionary Robert Burris. “Many, however, are still broken from having no hope. This is a critical time for stepped-up ministry.”

The CCRA partners are putting up more than 700 prefabricated housing units to help families whose homes were destroyed in the quake, Burris said. An estimated 300,000 people were left homeless by the tremor, which killed 2,474 people and caused $14.1 billion in damage.

The CCRA was established in 1999 after Cameron Byler, retired director of Baptist men’s work for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, led disaster relief training for more than 200 Taiwanese Baptists and for Project Taipei, a team of missionaries focused on reaching the Taiwanese capital for Christ. At least one of those training sessions was held in the Nan-Tou area, near the epicenter of the September earthquake.

“Many of us feel the Lord was in this training and the timing of it,” Burris said of the several weeks of training led by Byler, a veteran of 60-plus major disaster relief efforts, and others.

Aided by $75,000 in International Mission Board relief funds, the missionaries and believers from four Taiwanese Baptist churches have concentrated their post-earthquake efforts in the seven villages of Tiong-Liau township, Burris said. Many residents of the severely damaged area are poor fruit farmers who face almost insurmountable challenges in putting their lives back together.

There have been as many as 10 suicides in the township since the quake, he noted. Many people are still living in tents and face a very uncertain future.

Before the relief effort, no churches of any kind existed in the Tiong-Liau area, and no efforts to share the gospel had been made in at least 40 years, Burris explained. The area also had no medical facilities at all.

Now at least 115 people in the Tiong-Liau area — among them a village leader and his wife — have made decisions to follow Jesus and multiple ministries are under way, including home visitation and Sunday school, English classes and tutoring for children. Three of the prefabricated housing units have been set aside for medical ministries, which Southern Baptist missionaries Sue Gardner, Mary Dickey, Susan Thompson and Ron West are helping set up.

In the quake area, hundreds of people, perhaps even a few thousand, have come to Christ, Burris said. Comprehensive statistics just aren’t available.

“Four churches are channeling workers and resources into this area,” he said. “They have a long-term vision to help the people rebuild their lives but also to see churches born in this area.

“We all can readily see how God is working and we simply feel compelled to join him in what he is doing in this previously overlooked area of central Taiwan.

“Some of our co-workers even have a vision that this ministry area will become somewhat of a ‘training center’ for Taiwanese believers who will go out as missionaries to other parts of Taiwan and beyond,” Burris added.

“We want to do all we can to help that vision become a reality. We hope Southern Baptists will continue to pray for all the people living in the areas affected by the quake.”

Contributions toward the relief efforts in Taiwan can be sent to: International Mission Board, Hunger and Relief Fund – Taiwan Earthquake Relief, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Fletcher Allen contributed to this article. Editors’ Note: Robert Burris is a native of Dallas. He and his wife, the former Donna Cope of Newton, Miss., were appointed missionaries to Taiwan by the International Mission Board in 1983. Prior to missionary appointment, he was pastor of churches in Texas, California, Arkansas, Indiana and Alabama.

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