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Volunteers catch glimpses of mercy via post-tsunami work

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptist volunteers who have gone to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other tsunami-ravaged countries continue to bring home glimpses of what they’ve seen and heard.

Among their experiences:

— Living in a home with mud ankle-deep, sleeping on a bed just high enough to escape the water, a father and son didn’t know what to do. Despair and hopelessness were written on their faces. How could they put their lives back together when the father was too old — and the son too young — to get all the mud and destroyed belongings out of the house?

A group of volunteers arrived and began to work with the father’s permission. They took everything out of the house, saving what they could, then started shoveling mud amid the heat and foul smell. Some time later, one of the floors became visible. The looks on the faces of the man and his son began to change. Hope began to replace despair. They went to work beside the team. The son, no more than 12, worked just as hard as any adult on the team. By the end of the day, the mud was cleaned out of the house. The father sat speechless trying to choke back the tears of joy for the restoration of hope that he had been offered through the sweat of strangers.

— After losing everything, some people don’t know where to begin. Others begin where they can. Pak is one of the latter. All that is left of his house is a concrete foundation, yet he has recovered a table and a mat to place on his property. All that is left of his village is rubble, but he intends to move back and resume work as a fisherman. All that is left of his family is him, so he searched until he found the bodies of his wife, mother and children in order to bury them.

A volunteer team helping with body removal met Pak when assisting in his village. Villagers and workers hired by the government would not touch the bodies, but Pak was different. He showed the team where bodies were and helped to extract them from the rubble without gloves, shoes or a mask. He feared nothing. He only hoped to obtain some type of peace by finding and burying the bodies of those he loved. When bodies were found, he covered them with cloth and prayed over them before allowing them to be placed in body bags. Through the efforts of Pak and the team, he found his loved ones, many other bodies were recovered from the rubble — and a few families were given the peace of knowing their loved ones had been found and buried.

— Even in a place of devastation, children still laugh and smile. A group of volunteers traveled to a displaced persons camp to play with children and educate them on simple things they could do to stay healthy: eating good food, taking vitamins, brushing their teeth. Each child was given a bit of food, some vitamins and a package that contained a toothbrush, toothpaste and a few toys. The volunteers also looked for any opportunity to love the kids and show them they weren’t forgotten in a time of tragedy. Their games allowed the kids time to play and goof off. The laughter and shouts that sprang from their tent brought a bit of joy to a sad place.

— A team of volunteers was invited by Muslims in one village to help them demolish a heavily damaged building. After the second day of work, one of the villagers asked a volunteer what his faith was. The volunteer replied that he was a follower of Jesus Christ. Then the volunteer asked if he and his group could pray with — and for — the villagers. The villager said yes, assuming they would pray in English with their eyes closed. The group, however, prayed in the local language, held their hands out and kept their eyes open as an expression of respect for the local Muslim culture. The villager was so impressed by the volunteers’ hard work and respect that he introduced them to the other villagers as “ones surrendered to God through Jesus.”

— Yusuf saw the tsunami wave coming and grabbed his 16-month-old child. He ran as fast as he could away from the wave so that he might save his child and himself. Though he repeatedly stumbled and fell in the surging water, he clung to his child with all of his strength. He made it to a school where he could climb the stairs and get to higher ground. As he ran up the steps, however, a panicked woman grabbed his arm. Yusuf, in a state of alarm himself, did everything he could to free himself from the woman’s grasp so he could save his child. Then the unthinkable happened: The woman accidentally wrenched Yusuf’s arm open and he watched helplessly as his young child fell into the water and was swept away.

As Yusuf told his story to a volunteer, he allowed tears of anguish to drip from his eyes. Though his tears are looked upon as weak by his culture, they came nonetheless. Yusuf felt so much pain — and enough comfort in the presence of a volunteer who had come to “weep with those who weep” — that the tears had to come.

— A Buddhist monk watched local Christians helping any and all tsunami survivors, regardless of their religion. He told a pastor, “I used to turn my head the other way in hatred when I walked by your church, but now I see the real heart of the church.” He went on to say he owned enough land on which to build 10 houses — and that he would give it to the pastor if Christians wanted to build houses for those who lost their homes in the tsunami.

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