Upon hearing of the post-Christmas tsunami disaster in southeast Asia, Grace Brethren churches and people everywhere felt an immediate impulse to respond with God’s love.
“Can we go over there and help?”
“Where can I send donations?”
“What is really needed?”
“Do our Grace Brethren churches have any coordinated response effort to help?”
These were the questions immediately circulating through the Fellowship as news reports transmitted horrifying photos and stories of ever-increasing death tolls in Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and other affected areas.
The leadership of Grace Brethren International Missions responded to the crisis by seeking to identify trusted contacts in the region who were involved in relief efforts. Churches in the USA were encouraged to channel their giving through Relief Agency Brethren (RAB). RAB was formed at the request of the National Conference some years ago to respond to international crises that affect Grace Brethren churches worldwide.
Twenty thousand dollars was forwarded to two groups involved in providing immediate relief efforts to those suffering in India and Thailand. To date about $70,000 has been received. GBIM is carefully evaluating additional requests for aid to determine the wisest way to utilize these funds.
When the tsunami hit, some 70 Grace Brethren International Missions personnel from throughout Asia were meeting in eastern Thailand for a conference. Several families—by God’s grace and provision—had changed plans for pre-conference vacationing to the exact location where tsunami damage was greatest. Several GBIM leaders—Wayne Hannah and Ted Rondeau—made a post-conference assessment trip to southwestern Thailand to assess how best to help.
Within days of the disaster, seasoned first-response relief agencies were warning against well-intentioned but unwise efforts to rush personnel, food and clothing to the affected areas. It was far better to work through experience crisis responders on the scene, they warned, and indicated there would be plenty of time later to send ministry teams to help with long-term effects, reconstruction, and rebuilding.
Should the FGBC have responded more quickly to this crisis? GBIM executive director David Guiles points out that RAB and GBIM have not traditionally been structured to be first-responders to a natural disaster. “Our primary ministry has always been long-range with a focus on church-planting,” says Guiles. “Our best way of helping is to be a second- or third-responder,” he says, “providing what the on-ground people say they need as the recovery begins.”
Partnering With Local and Nationals
Two organizations and individuals quickly emerged as obvious good, trusted partners with whom to work on response.
The first was Dr. Bobby Gupta, president of Hindustan Bible Institute, whose organization focused on some 5,000 homeless victims in five specific towns along the Indian coast. More information is available at www.hbiglobalpartners.org.
The second was Campus Crusade for Christ, which has strong local staffing in Thailand, including Mike and Judy Christian, who have been working in Thailand with Campus Crusade for many years and are from the Grace Brethren Church of Waterloo, Iowa. Both Gupta and the Christians have been consulted heavily on the best use of Grace Brethren relief funds, and deployment of teams of those who wish to help.
A strategic plan is now emerging.
Responding to Gupta’s indication that qualified medical help was needed, GBIM’s Mike Taylor, himself a trained healthcare professional, has assembled a team which includes a number of doctors and nurses who will be working in the five Indian villages from February 4-14 to assist with immediate medical needs and to help quell the growing threat of a spreading tuberculosis epidemic.
Meanwhile, Wayne Hannah and others from the GBIM management are working with the Christians and Campus Crusade on the possibility of larger teams going to Thailand later in the spring or summer to help with reconstruction, grief counseling, and other strategic needs.
In both areas, GBIM will be assessing the potential for longer-term relief and development efforts. The possibility of evangelism and church planting opportunities will also be explored. GBIM anticipates releasing a strategic plan for medium and long term GBC response to the crisis by mid-February.
What the Grace Brethren Can Do
All involved are requesting fervent prayer for the relief and reconstruction efforts.
The immediate needs are for clean consumable water, shelter, and medical intervention against the spread of disease.
The longer-term needs will be for emotional healing, for home reconstruction, and for rebuilding all the infrastructure wiped out by the tsunami.
Christian are responding out of Christ’s love and in His name, but caution is being advised against too-aggressive evangelism efforts, considering the existing religious climate in most of the affected areas.
In terms of giving, GBIM and RAB pledge that any gifts given to tsunami relief will be carefully and effectively deployed in both the short-term and long-term needs of those affected. Grace Brethren churches and people may continue to funnel giving through GBIM, confident that the gifts will be used in the most effective way to bring immediate relief, to share the gospel, and to assess long-term church-planting possibilities.
And finally, GBIM seeks to compile a pool of qualified and available people with a variety of skills from which to comprise future ministry teams. Carpentry, construction supervision, health/sanitation, counseling, and professional healthcare are among the areas where individuals will have future opportunity to use their training and skills in long-term relief efforts. Contact Kip Cone in the GBIM office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (574) 268-1888 to have names added to the lists of potential short-term helpers.
Dave Guiles, Tom Avey and others in FGBC leadership positions have expressed gratitude at how quickly and generously Grace Brethren people have responded. To learn of new opportunities, and to be kept up-to-date on developments, log onto http://www.fgbc.org/, http://www.gbim.org/, or http://www.fgbcworld.com/. Frequent updates will be available through the GBIM website, the Fellowship Coordinator’s weekly e-mail and through FGBC World’s daily blog.