Upon hearing of the post-Christmas tsunami disaster in southeast Asia, Grace Brethren churches and people everywhere felt an 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 questions circulated through the Fellowship as news reports transmitted horrifying pictures and stories of ever-increasing death tolls in Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and other affected areas.
The leadership of Grace Brethren International Missions (GBIM) responded by seeking to identify trusted contacts and relief workers in the region. US churches were encouraged to channel their giving through Relief Agency Brethren (RAB), which was formed at the request of National Conference some years ago to respond to international crises affecting Grace Brethren churches worldwide.
Twenty thousand dollars was forwarded to two groups to provide immediate relief to those suffering in India and Thailand. At press time, about $70,000 has been received. GBIM is carefully evaluating the wisest way to use these funds.
When the tsunami hit, some 70 GBIM 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 the tsunami hit. Two GBIM leaders–Wayne Hannah and Ted Rondeau–made a post-conference trip to southwestern Thailand to investigate how best to help.
Shortly after 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 experienced 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? GBIM executive director David Guiles points out that RAB and GBIM have not traditionally been structured to be first-responders. “Our primary ministry has always been long-range with a focus on church-planting,” says Guiles. “Our best way to help 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 Locals and Nationals
Two organizations and individuals quickly emerged as good, trusted partners with whom to work on response.
One 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. Mike and Judy Christian, who have been working in Thailand with Campus Crusade for many years, are from the Grace Brethren Church of Waterloo, IA. Both Gupta and the Christians have been consulted heavily on the best use of Grace Brethren relief funds, and deployment of teams who wish to help.
A strategic plan is now emerging. Responding to Gupta’s word that qualified medical help was needed, GBIM’s Mike Taylor, himself a trained healthcare professional, assembled a team including a number of doctors and nurses to work in five Indian villages in early February, assisting with immediate medical needs and helping quell the threat of a tuberculosis epidemic.
Meanwhile, Hannah and others from the GBIM leadership 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 India and Thailand, GBIM is assessing the potential for longer-term relief and development efforts. The possibility of evangelism and church planting opportunities will also be explored.
What the Grace Brethren Can Do
Fervent prayer is requested 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, home reconstruction, and rebuilding all the infrastructure wiped out by the tsunami.
Believers respond out of Christ’s love and in His name, but caution is being advised against too-aggressive evangelism efforts, in light of the existing religious climate in affected areas.
In terms of giving, GBIM and RAB pledge that any gifts given for tsunami relief will be carefully and effectively deployed in meeting 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 their funds 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 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 add names of potential short-term helpers.
GBIM’s Dave Guiles, Fellowship Coordinator Tom Avey, and others in FGBC leadership have expressed gratitude for 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 www.fgbc.org, www.gbim.org, or 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.