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Southern Baptist tsunami response gifts top $10 million

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–As ministry to Asian tsunami survivors begins the transition from emergency relief to long-term recovery, Southern Baptist gifts to the aid effort through the International Mission Board have topped $10 million.

By Feb. 17, total contributions received from Southern Baptist churches and individuals for tsunami aid had surpassed $10,209,000 — an unprecedented outpouring of compassion over such a short period, according to IMB finance officials.

So far, about $2.5 million has been disbursed for nearly 50 aid projects across South and Southeast Asia, ranging from food and water distribution, medical care, temporary shelter and sanitation to providing fishing nets and reconstruction materials for villagers struggling to rebuild their lives and communities.

Many more projects will be funded in the months to come, said Jim Brown, the mission board’s specialist for world hunger and relief ministries. They will support ongoing relief as well as longer-term efforts to help ravaged communities recover and rebuild. Every penny given will go to tsunami-related ministry.

“The resources we’re using have come through Southern Baptists, but they’ve come from God,” Brown said. “When it’s all said and done, I’m sure we will have utilized all we’ve received — and then some. With a crisis of this magnitude, it may take a year. It may take two years or even longer. But it’s going to give our people the opportunity for building long-term relationships” in many places once difficult to reach by outsiders.

Recovery projects after other natural disasters — such as Hurricane Mitch, which devastated parts of Honduras in 1998 — often continue for years, Brown said. Mitch was bad, but the regional devastation wrought by the tsunami is almost incomprehensible.

“So far we’ve been doing emergency disaster response,” said Don Dent, IMB regional leader for mission work in the Pacific Rim. “We were there early, and we were there with people who knew the language and culture, supported by volunteers who have been meeting needs. We’ve done feeding. We’ve done a lot of medical work. We’ve dug mass graves for villages. We’ve cleaned out houses so people can move back in out of the weather. We’ve done some building projects already. We knew the funds were there because Southern Baptists were responding immediately and generously.”

In the months ahead, Dent said, work is “going to need to transition to more reconstruction and development of [local] economies, which is great because there’s a lot of relationship building we can do.”

Dent acknowledged there must be “10,000 volunteer teams that want to come build something.” But he emphasized this is not a time to build churches — especially in majority Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist communities carefully watching what Christian volunteers do in their midst.

“It’s a time to build community centers or schools or housing,” he said. “We have teams booked for all the openings that we have for the next three months at least. We’re hoping for long-term openings.”

One key to long-term presence: governments in the region. Several national governments are showing clear indications they will soon limit access to tsunami-damaged areas — particularly Indonesia. Indonesia’s Aceh province, where more than 120,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami, was closed to foreigners before the disaster because of long-running conflict between the national government and separatist forces.

“By July or August, most of the groups now working in Aceh probably will not be there any longer,” Dent said. “We’re hoping and planning and working toward being there for the next year or two. But it’s hard to project how open it’s going to be and how many people we’re going to be able to put in there.

“Not everyone is happy that foreigners are in these places. Not everyone wants us there. But Christians are having an impact. People are overwhelmed that foreigners are coming and helping them. We just ask people to keep praying that the long-term opportunity will be there.

“I’m asking people to pray that God will open a door that no man can shut.”
For more information on tsunami relief efforts and how to get involved, visit www.imb.org. To view a new video about relief ministry in Indonesia, visit http://www.imb.org/core/story.asp?storyID=2407&LanguageID=1709.

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  • Erich Bridges