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Baptists Prepare for Long Haul in Tsunami Response

The death toll from the Dec. 26 Southeast Asia tsunami catastrophe passed 175,000 on Monday when Sri Lanka confirmed thousands more dead, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, relief workers feared for their safety amid unconfirmed threats of terror attacks in Indonesia’s hard-hit Aceh province.

Relief organizations, including those run by Baptists, continued to meet immediate needs and looked forward to long-term rebuilding and development efforts.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
A second Baptist World Aid/Hungarian Baptist Aid medical team left Jan. 6 for Banda Aceh in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Sumatra and was greeted on arrival by the Indonesian president. The 13-member team, invited by the government, will work in a refugee camp serving over 30,000 people with only four doctors caring for them, BWAid reported Thursday.
 
The first BWAid/Hungarian BWAid team left for Sri Lanka Dec. 27, one day after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated coastlines along the Indian Ocean.
 
Donations to Baptist World Aid Australia reached over $2 million for the tsunami relief, the group said Monday. The funds will be used by partners for immediate relief work, as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction work for months and years.
 
With gifts totaling more than $1.1 million, the British Baptist Missionary Society received more in relief aid the past three weeks than it had the previous three years. Because of that generosity, BMS approved its largest ever relief grant, about $186,000, for relief operations in India expected to last up to a year.
 
“There are several distinct phases in disaster relief work,” said BMS spokesman David McLellan. “The phase that receives the most media attention and often the most money is the initial one, potentially to the detriment of later phases of the work.”
 
BMS, he said, “is committed to maintaining our work in areas affected by the tsunami for as long as the need exists, maybe for years to come. As needs continue to arise, well into the rebuilding phase, we will endeavor to release new funds to tried and trusted partners, aimed at specific and realistic projects within specific communities. We want to encourage our churches to keep giving.”
 
One concern being reported is that more money is being raised than agencies and governments can effectively spend. David Kerrigan, BMS director for mission, said it is important that help offered is focused and undertaken in partnership with local communities.
 
“The main concern when responding to disasters is not, as scaremongers would have us believe, the unscrupulous ‘agencies’ collecting money under fraudulent pretences, but rather that those of us with honorable intentions do not do more harm than good,” he said in a press release.
 
The Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship sent its first relief volunteers last Wednesday to India.
 
The CBF, which had a presence in Southeast Asia prior to the tsunami destruction, pledged to stay in the region even after immediate relief efforts subside. 
 
“We have a commitment to be there as long as we are welcome to be there,” Barbara Baldridge, CBF Global Missions acting coordinator, said in a news release. 
 
The CBF also offered on-line resources for helping children cope with fears and concerns stemming from reports of death, including many children.
 
“These resources give handles for ongoing discussion and care for children and their concerns,” said Bo Prosser, CBF congregational life coordinator. “The children may not be asking theological questions; they may just be seeking help in how to cope with the fears they are facing,” he said.
 
Shanta Premawardhana, a Baptist minister who works as interfaith relations director of the National Council of Churches, talked about visits to his native Sri Lanka Jan. 12 on BBC.
 
Asked what he tells people who ask “where was God” when the tsunami struck, he said: “I have tended to say to people that the speculation about where was God or theories about what kind of karma caused this to happen, it is too early for these speculations.”
 
“We have to stay silent in the face of pain,” he said..
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.