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Tsunami: Waves take deadly toll on churches

“A few seconds was all it took, and sadly it took all …” Those were the words Peter B. Dennis used to describe the catastrophic events of Dec. 26, when a wall of water swept across communities bordering the Indian Ocean, claiming more than 160,000 lives, destroying homes and businesses.
Churches of Christ throughout the region reported losses from the killer tsunami that followed a massive undersea earthquake near the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Many church families “are suffering from the tidal waves that swept away their loved ones and homes,” said Dennis, a minister in Chennai, in southeastern India.
At least 40 church members were killed in the Chennai area, and 105 church families in four area villages lost their homes.
“There are so many names,” said V. Jeremiah, a minister in India’s Komarole area. By Jan. 10 he had collected reports from area churches naming 279 members lost in the waves. Among the dead were 74 Jeremiah had personally baptized, he said.
Many of the churches met in “prayer huts,” simple structures of thatch and wood that were swept away by the waves. Several families also lost their means of support. Among the 79 members of the Kadappakkam church are 24 fishermen, and all of them lost their wooden boats and fishing nets, said minister G. David Illankumarin.
“The waves have long receded, but life has changed forever for the residents of (the) fisherman colonies dotting the city’s beaches,” Illankumarin said.
Fewer casualties were reported by churches of Christ in other countries in the tsunamis’ path. Reggie Gnanasundaram, a minister in Sri Lanka, said that he has received no reports of churches directly affected by the tsunamis, which claimed more than 30,000 lives on the island south of India. Several medical teams from churches of Christ were headed to Sri Lanka at press time to administer aid.
The waves battered the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, and killed about 4,000 people in the province of Aceh, a highly Islamic community with no churches of Christ, said missionary Steve Cate.
Near Aceh is the island of Nias, which Cate first visited in 1973. Since then church membership has grown, and “today we have almost 4,000 brethren in Christ on this island in 49 congregations,” Cate said.
Early reports showed serious damage on Nias, but little is known about churches there, said Andrew S. Banjarnahor, a church member in Medan, Indonesia. At press time, a team was traveling to the island to assess church members’ needs, Cate said.
Banjarnahor said that the earthquake that triggered the tsunamis cracked ceramic tiles and damaged property in Medan, on Sumatra’s eastern coast, but caused no significant damage.
Two church members from central Thailand died in the tsunamis, said Kim Voraritskul, missionary in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Both were in the southern part of the country on business. At least one church family lost its home in Phuket, Thailand, after the waves battered six southern provinces along the coast of the Andaman Sea, said Prasit Jirojanakul, of the Somprasong church, Bangkok.
The Somprasong church is collecting funds to aid the survivors “no matter if they are Thais or foreigners, Christians or non-Christians,” Jirojanakul said. “We think that this will provide a good opportunity for local churches to make a spiritual bridge to the public nearby.”

Filed under: Staff Reports Top Stories

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