|Church Continues Aid to Tsunami Victims, Long-Term Plan in Works
By Chad Phares, Church Magazines
Weeks after deadly tsunamis killed more than 150,000 people across southern Asia, the Church continues its humanitarian efforts in hopes of restoring self-sufficiency and order within the countries ravaged by waves that resulted from a 9.0-magnitude underwater earthquake, the strongest in 40 years.
While the Church immediately supplied critical commodities such as food, hygiene kits, medical supplies, and shelter, the focus of the relief has turned to analyzing what will best help the citizens of the affected countries move forward.
Bishop Richard C. Edgley, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, visited Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and at press time, the Church was in the process of creating a long-term plan to aid those in need.
"When it comes to a major tragedy as we have all witnessed on the television, on the news, and in newspapers, compassion knows no boundaries; it has no cultural boundaries; it has no religious boundaries," Bishop Edgely said.
Renn Patch, director of administrative services in the Welfare Services Department, said the immediate shelter and food issues have mostly been addressed and that the Church is determining how to best help those in need regain self-reliance.
Among other things, some of the current issues that must be addressed are the needs for schools, clean water, and medical services, he said.
Although the results were tragic for communities battered by the waves, most Church members and all missionaries reportedly had been spared the catastrophe's devastation. As of press time, there were no confirmed deaths of Church members as a result of the tsunamis. One local Church member was missing. Several members received minor injuries, and at least two member families were displaced from their homes in Sri Lanka. No Church property was reported damaged.
Bishop Edgley commended local members for their personal and family preparation, noting that having items such as emergency kits and food storage allowed them to reach out to others more quickly because their own families' needs were already met.
Meanwhile, millions of locals are homeless, and hundreds of thousands are fighting sickness and injuries.
Members around the world have participated in relief efforts. "It happened almost instantaneously, not just in those countries but in places as far away as Hong Kong," Bishop Edgely said of the assistance given by members worldwide.
In Hong Kong, more than 450 Church members and investigators gathered in the Ho Man Tin meetinghouse to assemble 15,000 hygiene kits (as of press time) for Sri Lanka and plan to do more. Members in India and Thailand also prepared hygiene kits and gathered cooking materials.
A press release issued by the First Presidency days after the destruction urged "our people to remember in their prayers those in the devastated areas and to contribute most generously in fast offerings, which will make it possible for the Church to increase its aid to those whose suffering is so great."
Although relief efforts have helped those affected by the tsunamis, the damage done to the coasts of the affected countries was extensive. Church Emergency Response Director Garry Flake, who visited southern Asia soon after the tsunamis hit, called the wreckage a "sobering situation."
"The destruction came so quickly," Brother Flake said. "It caught hundreds of thousands of people racing for their lives."
Though few missionaries were serving near areas struck by the waves, they have continued to give assistance in relief efforts. Those serving in Sri Lanka have helped make hygiene kits, delivered food to the hungry, and cooked breakfast for those displaced from their homes.
Missionaries in the Thailand Bangkok Mission have participated in packing food and hygiene kits and loading trucks. Thirty missionaries met with stranded tourists in Bangkok at Thammasat University to provide translation services.
Missionaries in the Indonesia Jakarta Mission have assisted members in purchasing and shipping supplies to needy areas and assembling 3,000 hygiene kits.
Mission presidents in affected countries have said their missionaries will continue to give assistance as needed. "There are going to be needs here for a long time," Brother Flake said. Church News contributed to this report.