Locals responding to tsunami tragedy

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 3, 2005

The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged thousands of coastline villages from Thailand to Somalia this past weekend has prompted an urgent need for relief from the international community, including churches here in Butler County.

With the death toll at 117,000 and rising quickly, the threat of infectious diseases is increasing rapidly as entire islands go without clean water and medicine.

As of Noon Thursday, just three days after a powerful tsunami impacted countries in southern Asia and eastern Africa, Americans have generously contributed approximately $18 million to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which supports both immediate and long term relief efforts for disaster victims in countries outside the U.S.

Immediately after the earthquake, the Red Cross established contact with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to determine how best the organization can be of assistance to those affected by the tsunami.

"I'm heartened that the American people are turning to the American Red Cross as a conduit for their compassion and concern for the families affected by the tsunami in Asia," said Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO of the American Red Cross.

Currently, senior leadership at the American Red Cross are in close coordination with international partners to determine the scope of the monetary needs that exist as a result of this disaster, and, in the coming weeks, will make informed decisions as to how best to support this expansive international relief effort through direct cash assistance.

"The American Red Cross will be as transparent as possible. I want to assure donors that their intent will be honored and their contributions to the International Response Fund will be used to meet the needs of earthquake victims in the days, week and months ahead," Evans continued.

Local Baptists ready for relief

Tim Patton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Greenville, says, due to the Christmas holidays, his congregation has not had the opportunity to meet together and discuss providing relief funds for the tragic situation.

"Our office has been closed all week. However, we are going to be looking into what we are doing as a denomination [to help the disaster victims]. Southern Baptists, through the International Mission Board, have a long history of being among the first on the site of such disasters, and I am sure that is true in this case, too," said Patton.

A visit to the International Mission Board's (IMB) website (www.imb.org) brings up a feature article, "Relief begins to Asian Coast", dated 12/27/04.

The article details how Southern Baptist relief workers had already been at work delivering food, water, blankets and other essentials to coastal villages in Southern Thailand and the heavily damaged resort area of Krabi.

One unnamed Southern Baptist relief coordinator is quoted as saying, "These little villages are devastated. It's hard to describe how bad it is."

Initially, $125,000 in Southern Baptist disaster relief funds was requested aid in relief efforts in Asia.

"This will help us get a lot started, but until we go in and get on the ground, it's hard to say how much we will need," the relief coordinator said.

The worker also said "a ton of relief agencies" were expected in the devastated portions of Sri Lanka and India, which have appealed for international aid.

He said the IMB plans to focus on the hardest-hit areas that have not yet requested assistance, including Indonesia, by going through "local people and official channels".

Southern Baptists who wish to give to the relief fund can do so by sending gifts designated "Asia Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund" to the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230. They can also go online at www.imb.org, go to the top story and click on "give now" to make a donation online.

According to the website, 100 percent of all monies donated will go to relief efforts in Asia. Members of local congregations should also check to see if a special love offering is being taken up for the relief effort.

Methodists unite to aid survivors

Kerry Eckert, wife of First United Methodist Church pastor, Reverend Chris Eckert, said their denomination has an ongoing relief ministry in place known as UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee On Relief).

"UMCOR is a wonderful program, in that, dollar for dollar, the monies go directly to disaster relief…funds have already been established well ahead of time so there are monies in place to help immediately when such disasters strike," explained Eckert.

According to the United Methodist Church website (UMC.org), UMCOR has developed a long-term relationship with other organizations that are responding to tsunami relief on the ground.

The Rev. Kristen Sachen, head of UMCOR's disaster response, said the biggest need in a big emergency such is this is often money.

"Our partners have the networks, the training, and they simply need the money to carry out their plan," said Sachen.

UMCOR, organized about eight years ago, is a founding member of Action for Churches Together (ACT) a consortium that includes the Sri Lankan Churches Council and other organizations around the world. ACT's goal is to help relief organizations avoid duplicating efforts and providing aid that is not effective.

While UMCOR has already released funds to aid survivors of the disaster, Sachen says its goal is to help in mid- and long-term recovery organization.

"That's one of the great things about UMCOR – it looks past the immediate need to help people with long-term needs. And 100 percent of the donations go to disaster relief, none to administrative costs," said Eckert.

Donations to UMCOR's "South Asia Emergency" relief efforts can be placed in local offering plates on Sunday or can be sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, N.Y. 10115.

Online donations can be made by going to www.methodistrelief.org, and credit card donations can be made by calling 1(800) 554-8583.

To make a donation to the Red Cross call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.

Other ways to help:

Many agencies are responding to the call for help worldwide and here are a few others you may wish to contact to make a donation:

American Jewish World Service

45 West 36th Street

New York, NY




151 Ellis Street NE

Atlanta, GA 30303


Catholic Relief Services

P.O. Box 17090

Baltimore, MD



Doctors Without Borders

P.O. Box 2247

New York, NY 10116-2247


International Orthodox Christian Charities

P.O. Box 630225

Baltimore MD 21263-0225


Oxfam America

26 West Street

Boston, MA 02111-1206


Salvation Army

International Headquarters

Designate online donations for '"South Asia Disaster Fund"

Samaritan's Purse

P.O. Box 3000

Boone, NC 28607


Staff Writer Angie Long contributed to this report