RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–For days, maybe even weeks, many Christians will focus on the staggering human suffering in southern Asia.
You’re probably one of them. You’ve been moved by the heartrending stories of death and survival. You’ve shed some tears. Perhaps you’ve already contributed to relief efforts or plan to do so. You’ve prayed for the families who have lost loved ones.
But soon you’ll grow weary of the avalanche of stories of sadness and loss. Your daily life will crowd back in with its many demands. The new year will bring new crises. The news inevitably will return to Iraq, the economy and other matters -– and your attention will shift away from the people of southern Asia.
Please, don’t let that happen this time.
Throughout their annual Christmas season of giving to international missions, Southern Baptists have focused specifically on South Asia. They have prayed for the hundreds of millions of people in the region. They have given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and continue to give, that the people of South Asia in particular might hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That –- and the timing of this monumental tragedy -– cannot be a coincidence.
“When disasters like this strike, we usually feel overwhelmed at the number of lives lost,” said one Southern Baptist worker in the region. “But to put things in a different perspective, do you realize that over 33,000 people die in South Asia every day? South Asia includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Pretty close to 99 percent of those are lost — no relationship with Christ. About 33,000 die every day — not from earthquakes, not from tsunamis, just the average death toll in South Asia. And they’re lost. How God’s heart must break!”
Whole villages in Sri Lanka were swept into the Indian Ocean by the tsunamis that crashed into the coast. More than a million people have been displaced there.
“The thing that tugs at my heart is, ‘How many of those who died did so without knowing Jesus as their Savior?'” the worker asked. “It’s one thing to grieve for the lost dead. What are you going to do for the lost who are still living? Pray. Give. Go.”
In addition to being spiritually lost, many of the places hit the hardest are difficult to reach physically, cut off by rebel insurgencies, wracked by ethnic conflict. Sri Lanka, for example, has been plagued by a long-running battle between the government and the Tamil Tiger guerrilla movement.
The devastated Andaman Islands of India are very difficult for outsiders to reach without government approval. The Maldive Islands –- home to up to 400,000 inhabitants -– are solidly Muslim and resist ministry by any Christian agency.
Pray for doors to open in both places.
”Reports are starting to come in that some small people groups may have been completely wiped from the face of the earth in places like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,” said Paul Hattaway, an expert on Asia’s unreached tribes and peoples. “Other groups like the Mokkien (Sea Gypsies) of Thailand and Myanmar lived right in the path of the tsunami. As one of our co-workers e-mailed us, ‘There are some entire tribes that have been wiped out in Burma and Thailand. My heart just broke when I heard this …'”
In the wake of the tsunamis, the countries hit are the least capable financially to address the overwhelming needs. Yet, with a minimum wage of less than $5 per day, one little Thai Baptist church promised $500 to aid others. Another group of 20 church members gathered $3,000 to buy rice to send to the affected areas.
If they can give what little money they have, we can give our hearts to the suffering and lost of southern Asia.
”The need is more than just containers of supplies,” Hattaway said. “It is more than throwing mineral bottle water from moving trucks — and feeling like they have done their part. It is about sitting down with a mother who has lost her husband and children, and praying with her, and helping her to put the bottle of water on her lips and nourish her.
“Only the church can do that.”
Bridges is senior writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Southern Baptists and other Christian can help by sending financial gifts for aid through the IMB general relief fund. Send gifts designated “Asia Earthquake Disaster Relief” to the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230 (to give online, go to the International Mission Board’s website, www.imb.org, and click on the “Give Now” box). All funds given will go directly and fully to relief efforts.