COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (BP)–“Southern Baptists are committed to serving Sri Lankans for the time it takes to make a significant difference in their lives,” a Southern Baptist assessment team member assured.
Pierce Hosmer,* another team member who serves as the International Mission Board’s strategy coordinator for the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka, recounted, “This week, [Southern Baptists] have shown God’s love for Sri Lankans by handing out hot meals to the homeless. In the days to come, the needs will change, and we will be here to meet those needs as well.”
The assessment team worked closely with local Baptist leaders to determine the most effective ways to minister both physically and spiritually to the people in Sri Lanka.
“I asked a pastor friend what the people’s greatest need is right now, and he said they need Bibles. These people have lost everything. Their Bibles were washed out to sea,” Hosmer said. “As of Jan. 9, Southern Baptist gifts had purchased 600 Bibles in the Sinhala and Tamil languages, and 340 of those already had been given out, not randomly but to those who truly longed to read God’s Word again — or for some, to read it for the first time.”
About 77 percent of Sri Lanka’s nearly 20 million population are Buddhists; fewer than 1 percent of Sri Lankans are evangelical Christian believers, Hosmer said. About 8.5 percent are Muslims, and about 8 percent are Hindus. Southern Baptists are trying to help all of those who are in need, said David Garrison, leader for the IMB’s South Asia region.
Preliminary assessment by local Baptist leaders just after the tsunami allowed the Southern Baptist team to focus immediately on the greatest needs, said Pat Julian*, Southern Baptist disaster relief coordinator for Asia. Local believers knew of tsunami survivors who had been overlooked by the government and aid agencies because they were not in the hardest-hit areas.
Disaster relief team members from South Carolina arrived on the heels of the assessment team. The next day they — in partnership with local Baptists and the IMB — were scooping chicken curry onto plates for 800 hungry people at a camp of displaced persons, handing out 300 packets of dry goods at a Buddhist temple and a Muslim mosque and preparing kitchen sets for 618 families who had lost all their cooking utensils.
“The recipients knew that Christians were sharing with them,” Garrison said. “They were touched that those they had formerly persecuted were now extending love to them.”
“We are grateful to Southern Baptists and to the Lord for the generous way in which they have responded to this crisis,” Hosmer said. “Many of these families have not only lost their homes and possessions, they have lost their livelihood as well. Their jobs are gone. They have no resources for the essentials like food, so the thought of replacing children’s schoolbooks is overwhelming to them. Yet, Southern Baptists are there for these people, already providing food for them and evaluating what is next.”
As of Jan. 18, Southern Baptists and others had contributed more than $3 million to help tsunami survivors. Gifts for the relief effort may be sent to “Asia Earthquake Disaster Relief,” International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230 (to give online, go to www.imb.org, and click on “Give Now” in the box highlighting this story). All funds given will be used in relief efforts. None will be used for administrative or promotional purposes.
Proper assessment is critical because IMB personnel want to use relief gifts wisely and strategically. Although fishermen need their boats replaced, the government regulates the construction of boats and the types of boats fishermen use. It would be poor stewardship to purchase boats that do not meet such regulations, Hosmer said. The IMB also is waiting before rebuilding houses.
“We are not ready for construction crews. The government may restrict where the people can build, forbidding them from rebuilding on their coastline property,” Hosmer said. “We do not want to spend relief money to build a house that might be bulldozed down in the months to come. When the government has announced its decision, then we will determine how we can help shelter Sri Lankans more permanently.”
The team already has determined that the IMB will not start orphanages. Extended family members will take in most children orphaned by the tsunami, Julian said. Agencies that specialize in child care and placement will help those who have no family.
“Our focus will be to fill in the gaps, to help in ways that others are not and to minister to those who have been traumatized by the tsunami but are being overlooked,” Hosmer said. “To do this, we ask for Southern Baptists’ prayers and for their patience. We want to act with purpose — not just doing good works, but serving in obedience to God’s will and with His guidance. Apart from that, apart from Him, we will accomplish little, so pray that He would lead and we would listen.
“A great tragedy has struck Sri Lanka,” Hosmer said. “Many lives have been lost already. We don’t want another Sri Lankan to die without Jesus in their hearts.”
*Name changed for security reasons. “Goldie Frances” is a writer serving with the IMB in the South Asia region. Her name also has been changed for security reasons.
— Here are examples of how gifts to the Asia Earthquake Disaster Relief fund and the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund can help tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka:
$3.25 replaces a school uniform for students in Grades 1-3.
$3.50 replaces a school uniform for students in Grades 4-9.
$3.80 buys a Bible in the Sinhala or Tamil language.
$5.75 replaces a school uniform for students in Grades 10-13.
$10 provides a family with a dry food packet of rice, sugar, lentils, salt, Soya meat, sprats (tiny dried fish), canned salmon, tea, soap and toothpaste — enough food to last five days.
$20 provides a family with a kitchen set that includes six plates, cups, a pitcher, tea strainer, larger strainer, tea kettle, mixing spoon, coconut scraper, metal cooking pot and two saucepans.
$1,500 builds the average basic house for a family.