CWR Continues Rebuilding Lives of Tsunami Victims

Post a Comment » Written on January 17th, 2006     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (January 17, 2006) – Jim Sundholm and Elliott Johnson became concerned when an Indian customs officer seemed especially persistent in asking if they had visited one particular Andaman island.

Sundholm, the director of Covenant World Relief, and Johnson, the Covenant’s director of financing and controller, had traveled to Sri Lanka, fishing villages in India and the Andaman Islands to inspect tsunami relief work funded by the Evangelical Covenant Church. Although they are a part of India, the Andaman Islands are closer to Thailand, roughly 320 miles southwest of Bangkok in the Bay of Bengal.

Travel is permitted to most of the islands, but visits to Little Andaman require a special visa because of a sensitive military installation located there. When Sundholm advised the officer that a visit had been made to Hut Bay, a nearby Indian Army captain who had been listening began to make his way over. “I thought, what’s going to happen now?” Sundholm says.

But, the captain began to tell them of how he and soldiers under his command had been to the island to help with tsunami relief. He then proceeded to tell them about a group he met there. “They were amazing people,” he said. “The way they cared for people – they were serving them medically, they were feeding them, and they were giving them fresh water. I spent all my free hours helping them.” The captain added, “It’s probably a group you never heard of – it’s the HCC (Hindustani Covenant Church).”

“We told him we were the group funding the HCC and then he got real excited,” Sundholm says. “What I thought might be potentially troublesome turned into being a major blessing.”

For Sundholm and Johnson, the encounter was a confirmation of the work in which Covenanters were participating. “It showed me we are doing the right things and that we’re working with really great partners,” Sundholm says.

The joyful hope demonstrated by the islanders and others the Covenant is helping was further confirmation, says Johnson. “It’s amazing – their attitude.”

Everywhere along the coasts, so much had been destroyed, so much taken from the people in an instant by “the wave.” The wall of water, which reached higher than 30 feet, taller than the trees, taller than all the telephone polls, tore apart nearly everything in its path.

The island actually sank a noticeable amount, the two men say. Scientific reports state that some islands tilted as a result of the events. The same had happened during a 1941 earthquake and tsunami, according to the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado.

In Sri Lanka, hundreds were killed in a train more than a quarter mile inland when fleeing residents had sought shelter, thinking the distance and dense trees would keep the water away. “I thought the train was in a swamp,” says Johnson.

Today a young woman in the Sri Lanka sits weaving fishnets, which she sells to provide income for her family. Her sister had been a hotel worker who was taken by the wave and never seen again. “The tragedy so shocked her other sister that she has not spoken since,” Sundholm says. The father was and remains critically ill.

The young woman, herself continues to battle her own physical ailments even as she works. “She also has a muscle illness that makes life difficult, but she has an amazing faith and an unsinkable spirit,” Sundholm says.

Covenanters have been a major source of that attitude, says Johnson. “They have given them hope by allowing them to go back to their fishing, and they will have homes that will be safe in the future, not only from tsunamis, but also from cyclones.”

The homes will be safer because of construction that is far better than previous houses and because they will be moved farther inland, Johnson says. Unlike the villagers’ previous homes, these houses have solid walls, real ceilings and concrete floors.

Finding land, financing and building the homes still will take a lot of time. Getting enough homes for the people will take a year at minimum and likely longer, says Johnson.

Sundholm and Johnson met a family they hope will be able to quickly move into one of the homes. Three children now live with their grandparents after having seen their other family members killed. Their father had grabbed the boy and girl and moved them to higher ground. The mother was struggling with the couple’s baby and the father returned to help, only to have all three drown.

Having heard about the arrival of Sundholm and Johnson, the new family traveled nearly 40 miles to express their gratitude and share their story, Sundholm says. Covenanters now are covering the cost of the family’s food and school fees for the next two years.

Through CWR, the denomination has committed to reconstructing lives for the next two years. In addition to building homes, more fishing boats will be added, needed fishing nets will be made available, food will be provided as will temporary shelter, schools will be funded, businesses and farming will be started and restored.

“It will change their lives forever,” says Sundholm.

(Editor’s note: this is the first in a three-part series that shares the Covenant’s work in India and other areas a year after the December 2004 tsunami.)

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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