Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, on Tuesday sent a pastoral letter to Baptists in Asia expressing shared grief of Baptists worldwide and pledging long-term support and aid to victims of natural disaster.
“Your brothers and sisters around the world are suffering and in pain with you due to the destruction brought about by the tsunami earthquake,” Lotz wrote. “Millions of people are continuing to pray for you, and in thousands of worship services worldwide brothers and sisters are calling upon our gracious and merciful God to bring relief and comfort to those who have suffered.”
Governments of the world have pledged $2 billion so far for relief efforts for victims of December’s earthquake-induced tidal waves in South Asia. But even that will need to be complemented by gifts from non-government organizations, including churches, to meet the full range of needs, said Stan Slade of American Baptist International Ministries.
Amid confusion that results from a large natural disaster, “local churches and church agencies are often able to make use of their grassroots networks to meet the needs of those who are falling through the cracks of larger programs,” Slade said in a statement.
Lotz said that thousands of Baptists have already given sacrificially to a special request for tsunami relief by Baptist World Aid, the BWA relief arm, and pledged that fund raising “will not stop until the job is completed.” He urged Baptist to continue to give to BWAid in its “long-term effort of rebuilding and restoration.”
The official death toll surpassed 145,000 Tuesday. Indonesia bore the brunt of casualties, with more than 94,000 deaths. Other hardest-hit areas include Sri Lanka, where 30,000 were confirmed dead; India, with 15,000; and Thailand, with 5,100 deaths, about half who were foreigners.
Fatalities also occurred in Myanmar, the Maldives, Malaysia and on the east coast of Africa in Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.
The number of people at risk of disease and malnutrition neared 5 million.
American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. are working with Baptist World Aid, Church World Service and international missionaries and partners in Thailand and India.
Church World Service, the relief, development and refugee-assistance ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations in the United States, said Monday that access was still limited to the affected province of Aceh, Indonesia, but an assessment team said physical and emotional support, along with temporary water and sanitation at refugee camps, were among immediate needs.
An assessment team from Texas Baptist Men planned to leave for Southeast Asia Wednesday. By weekend three water-purification units are scheduled to be operating in Sri Lanka and one in Thailand. Four feeding units should be in place by Monday. The first group of 80 volunteers planned to stay two weeks.
A second agency affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the San Antonio-based Baptist Child & Family Services, is sending a six-person team to set up five children’s emergency shelters and provide child care and training for local leaders.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas set aside $40,000 for immediate needs and encouraged churches to designate a Sunday offering for the crisis.
Baptist Word Aid committed $50,000 to a partner agency in Sri Lanka and $30,000 to another group in India. BWAid of Australia pledged $25,000 to a group providing pharmaceutical aid in Sri Lanka, a Hungarian Baptist Aid team offering medical relief in Sri Lanka and $25,000 to a relief organization in India.
One of the BWAid partner groups, LEADS, expects to maintain assistance for two years.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention reported on-line giving to its aid fund of more than $300,000 as of New Year’s Eve, nearly double the $170,000 given online for all of 2003. The Richmond-based agency expected more gifts to arrive by mail.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.