He will never forget the lament of a daughter crying over the body of her dead mother — still half-buried under the wreckage of a transit station a week after the tsunami hit.
He will never forget the miles upon miles of flat, barren wasteland once filled with busy neighborhoods and villages.
And he will never, ever forget the smell of death — everywhere.
At the end of a long, heartbreaking day (January 4) of covering the utter devastation in Aceh province in Indonesia, Christian correspondent "Alan Brant" (name changed for security reasons) sat down on a couch, fought off exhaustion and tears, and reported what he saw on a scratchy cell phone line.
"It's just beyond comprehension," Brant said. "The Indonesian friends we were with were pointing out places where (before the tsunami) you could not see the ocean — which was a good ten kilometers away. Villages and houses were there. Now you can see the ocean. It's just a flat wasteland."
Brant was with a team of local Christians assessing the disaster. He also planned to participate the next day in unloading and delivering two big trucks' worth of relief supplies.
Once the first wave of immediate relief and rescue responders leave, "the local governments will know what they're left with and what they're facing," Brant said. "At that point organizations like ours will know how to step in and help in a way that produces results …. Virtually any aspect of aid and assistance will be needed — food, food distribution, medical, construction. I can't even begin to imagine how to reconstruct this place. It's just gone."
Even in the major center of Banda Aceh, much of which has been destroyed, there are places workers can't get to because of the amount of destruction — "both from the earthquake because it's so close to the epicenter and from the tsunami that swept through the town," he said. "The force of the water just destroyed everything in its path. Boats are on top of buildings and bridges. Cars are all over the place, and the smell of rotten corpses is everywhere."
Southern Baptists and other Christians already are giving generously to relief efforts. How can they pray effectively?
"The most critical prayer is for the survivors, the people of Aceh, and the other countries in Asia that have been hurt by this — but specifically for the people of Aceh," Brant urged. "This is an area of Indonesia that has been completely locked down for the last eighteen months to outside media and aid workers. For decades it has been embroiled in a civil war with the Indonesian government. So this really represents a phenomenal opportunity for the rest of the world — and for the body of Christ — to step up and make an impact.
"It's an opportunity to show them there are people that love them and want to care for them through this difficult time …. This will be a phenomenal time for the people of Aceh to understand who Christ is."
That is Brant's hope for the living. For the dead, he broke down and cried as he talked of the devastation, of the thousands of bodies still lying in pools of water and under untouched rubble. Many entire towns and villages between Banda Aceh and the western coast of Sumatra "undoubtedly are completely wiped out," Brant said. "You have whole cultures that are just gone."