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Baptists Hold Tsunami Roundtable in Bangkok

Baptist leaders from tsunami-affected areas met with representatives of Baptist relief and mission agencies May 6-7 in Bangkok, Thailand, to review the help being given.

The roundtable was co-sponsored by Baptist World Aid, the relief-and-development arm of the Baptist World Alliance, and the Asian Baptist Fellowship, a regional fellowship of the BWA.

More than 40 workers from India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Hungary, United Kingdom and the United States attended. Others, who could not be represented, forwarded reports on ongoing work and future needs.

The group gave thanks to God for assistance already rendered after the Dec. 26 tsunami, which killed almost 300,000 people, injured many thousands and destroyed almost every aspect of life for so many. Programs such as food and water distribution, clothing donations, boats and nets for fishermen have been accomplished.

Reports on both current work and ambitious plans for future development were shared. The focus now is clearly on rebuilding people’s lives and homes, the community infrastructure and sustainable livelihoods.

Government decisions on the question of land use are awaited in some countries, and this is hindering rebuilding work.

It was impressive to see how Baptists from the affected areas have been doing so much in providing relief and making plans for the long-term future. In each country many local volunteers have involved themselves in immediate relief projects, distributing food and water and providing shelter. Clearance projects have enabled some temporary housing to be provided, and teams of Baptist medical personnel have made frequently trips to the devastated area.

Baptists from other Asian countries have responded generously, both in the supply of goods and volunteers, but also with cash donations to BWAid, the ABF and other groups. Japanese Baptist Mission Leader Hiro Sakamaki brought checks with him for BWAid and ABF, a sign of their continuing commitment to tsunami relief.

Rebuilding communities and livelihoods is a key priority for Baptist groups, and detailed plans for rebuilding homes, schools and community facilities were reviewed. Partnerships between indigenous Baptist groups and those from overseas are proving to be worthwhile, with volunteers working side-by-side with local people as reconstruction work begins.

Most volunteers have already been trained and equipped for their work by national and state Baptist groups, ensuring that the eagerness to assist is matched by a culture of sensitivity and respect. Relationships have been developed, and these will continue to grow as the rebuilding work takes place.

The total costs of new projects presented totaled $4,938,000, but details of other projects are still awaited. BWAid had received more than $2 million with its tsunami appeal, while between $12 million and $15 million has been received from other Baptist groups associated with the BWA.

The desire to develop the future global-response abilities of the worldwide Baptist family was emphasized. Plans are in hand to set up an electronic information network with a shared database of plans, people, funding sources, gifts in kind, etc.

While our cooperation and coordination worked to some degree, the need for a more speedy and coordinated response to disasters and crises was noted.

“These two days have been an amazing learning experience for all of us,” commented Liz Russell, BMS World Mission (UK). “It’s been such a privilege and delight to see the creativity of God’s people expressing his love and compassion in a time of crisis, in such diverse ways and with a determination to continue doing so.”

Bonny Resu, the ABF general secretary, said “it was a beautiful example that Baptists are willing to share and work together.”

Augustin Samosir, Union of Indonesian Baptist Churches, said: “I have a future hope we can work together.  Before we met there was little coordination or communication. Often we duplicated our efforts. It has been a real blessing.”

BWAid is still continuing to receive funds, as are many other Baptist entities.

Donations can be made to BWAid Tsunami Appeal, 405 North Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046, USA and further information can be found at www.bwanet.org/bwaid.

Paul Montacute is director of Baptist World Aid, the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance.

Click here for previous related stories on BWAid and other tsunami-relief efforts.