Some Christian families were affected by the terrible earthquake and killer tsunami tidal wave that followed in the wake of the recent tragedy here in India. The earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale unleashed its destructive power right across the Indian Ocean region and particularly affected the east coast of India, the State of Andhra Pradesh where we are presently holding meetings, and the adjoining State of Tamil Nadhu to the south. Several coastal areas which we have visited in our present itinerary were hit by the tsunami waves.
In Bapatla, where my interpreter lives and which is only a few kilometres from the sea, several fisherman families from the nearby coastal fishing village regularly attend meetings in the Bapatla assembly. Disaster struck when the huge tidal wave engulfed their village on Sunday morning. Other similar villages along the coast were also struck especially near Vetapalem where we also have a large assembly. These people are desperately poor and they lost everything to do with their livelihood – their boats, nets, and all fishing equipment were totally destroyed, smashed beyond repair by the succession of waves that battered their beaches and villages. It is a total loss because none of these people could afford insurance for their boats or property. Only a miracle preserved their lives as they were able to run for safety to higher ground. One fisherman’s wife hauling in their net on the beach was caught by the wave and swept away to her death. She was from a family who attend the assembly gospel meetings and has three small children. My interpreter, Anandarao, immediately went to them to comfort them. We are using some of our available funds to help this particular family and to pass on practical aid where we can selectively to other needy families – but it is only token help.
Anandarao’s son, Prem Kumar, was visiting his wife’s village further south along the coast in Tamil Nadhu and was actually in the assembly Prayer Hall for the breaking of bread meeting when the tsunami struck. The doors of the hall were ripped open by the force of the initial wave and everyone in the hall was overwhelmed by the surge of water. They managed to scramble out through the rushing sea only to be engulfed by the second and far greater wave that followed. It was above their heads and they were separated and swept away by the power of the sea, but then the wave receded and in the undertow they were dragged to a shallow spot where they found themselves stranded among high standing rocks and were saved! They say it was a miracle from God who preserved them when so many hundreds of others perished. However, one mother from the assembly bathing her small child at that time was trapped by the waters, and swept away and separated from her child. She was saved but the infant was discovered days later, drowned. A local assembly evangelist and his wife, whose little house was near the shore, were providentially visiting out of the area when the tsunami struck and severely damaged their home sweeping most of their possessions away. Neighbours guarded what was left of their belongings from opportunistic thieves.
In that same village the nearby Roman Catholic church building’s floor was below the level of the street. A morning service was in progress when the tidal wave engulfed them and trapped and drowned over forty people who could not escape because of the great depth and pressure of the water. A great number of women drowned because of the saris they were wearing. Their saris unwound in the surging waters and entangled them in underwater obstacles, trees, bushes, and seaweed.
The greatest need as far as assembly believers and work is concerned is in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where there has been widespread death and devastation. Reports from assembly evangelists and believers in these islands are that most of the believers have sustained total loss of home and possessions and are in dire straits. A full account is yet to come in as communications are still not fully restored, but the situation there is pretty grim. This is a pressing need and I have been in touch with our friends of the Indian Evangelical Trust in Cochin through whom I normally send gifts to India, and they have passed on the above latest information.
In Nellore I visited the coastal area where there had been extensive damage and saw where the monster wave had swept away the fishermen’s beach huts in which their equipment was stored, mangled their boats, and destroyed their gear. It was a sorry sight. However, their homes were some way inland and were intact, and none of the ones where we visited had lost anyone to the tsunami. The only fatality was one little girl who was swept away when she strayed near the beach. Their livelihood had however been completely destroyed and they were apprehensive about venturing out to sea again. The local prawn industry was also devastated which had been the main source of employment and one of the real economic successes of the area. They will have to try and build it up again almost from scratch!
In Vetapalem where there is a large assembly work several of the fishermen’s families have accepted the Lord. Ten people in this community lost their lives when the gigantic wave struck. One of the ten was a young fanatical Hindu man who did his best to stop the gospel meetings held in one of the Christian’s homes. He threatened the believers and harassed the meetings – but now sadly he has lost his life and died without a Saviour.
Here in Bapatla a number of fishermen families were affected by the tsunami, and large and small fishing craft were devastated. Their sole livelihood is gone! Five large boats were destroyed, four of them each supported forty families, and one of them sixty families! After the tragedy of the giant wave the government have thus far given this fishing community only 25 kilos of rice per family! Not a single rupee or hope as yet of any help in purchasing new boats. They have little faith or hope the government will do anything for them, and certainly not in the near future. They are illiterate, have no political champions or power and can’t even write a petition without some help; they are just a few poverty stricken communities along this part of the Andhra coast, out of sight and out of mind!
Of course we need to pray for those affected by this immense human tragedy, as indeed we do. Nevertheless, as well as sympathetically praying that their present misery and sorrow may be assuaged, and helping practically in their relief and comfort, we ought also to pray that men might see in this disaster the awesome power of God, and fear the judgement Hand of God.
I have never heard any commentator or seen any comment mentioning the possibility that the present disaster might in some way be associated with God, even less that it might be a voice from an outraged Deity! Yet how can vast subterranean tectonic plates supporting continents and gigantic land masses move so devastatingly without the permission of Him ‘who upholds all things by the word of His power'?
Is there no significance in the fact that the epicentre and devastation of the present catastrophe immediately affected the nation which has been the fiercest persecutor of Christians in the world today? Where the blood of the Lord’s martyrs has been shed for years, and where those who bear the Name of Christ have been driven into jungle wildernesses, and hounded from island to island – destitute, afflicted, and tormented, Heb. 11. 37. The wider influences of this destructive surge brought death and havoc to the shores of those nations immersed in idolatry and blinded by superstition, as well as striking those who had forgotten God and were ‘lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God’! Has the Mighty God of Heaven no voice in this thunderous disaster?
We recall from sacred revelation this is not the first and neither will it be the last gigantic tsunami to judge sinful men. In the days of Noah when ‘the fountains of the great deep’ were broken up and immense gouts of waters gushed up from the heaving ocean bed – what was that but a series of tremendous tsunamis that overwhelmed continents and mountain ranges and blotted out, not 150,000 souls, but the whole of mankind except for Noah and his family! Again, in Revelation 16. 18-21 an earthquake of universal proportions will, among other things, submerge every island as unprecedented tsunamis sweep them away! God is a God of righteous judgement and we do well to call men’s minds to these truths which such natural disasters bespeak.
For believers this overwhelming event reveals two things – the severity of God and His merciful goodness. His severity in judgement witnessed by the event itself, and in the tsunami wave His voice of warning that men should flee for refuge to the pardoning grace of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, while there is still time. And, ‘as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts’, Heb.3. 7-8.
Precious Seed commissioned this article from brother Michael Browne as he was serving the Lord in India when the tsunami struck. For those who would like to help the relief work in eastern Asia the usual channels of Echoes of Service, The Lord’s Work Trust, CMML and MSC can be used. For more specific help related to this article funds can be sent to: Indian Evangelical Trust, c/o The Secretary, Mr T. Johnson, Shelter 36/1757, Kaloor, Emakulam – 682 017, Kerala, India. Tel. +91 484 234 7467, email, [email protected]
Cheques should be made payable to: Indian Evangelical Trust. Direct electronic bank transfers should be sent to Indian Evangelical Trust, State Bank of Travancore. Bank Code 327. Account No. 13292, and should be designated ‘for Relief Work’. Otherwise, gifts can be sent through the appropriate missionary service organisation in your own country.
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