SBTS team returns from tsunami relief trip

Communications Staff — April 28, 2005

A group of eleven students, faculty members, and spouses from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently returned from a mission trip to one of the regions hardest hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Southeast Asia Dec. 26.

Working in Indonesia March 30-April 11, the group undertook a variety of service projects, including teaching English, surveying disaster sites, talking with local residents and restoring wells to a usable condition.

“We saw a few places near the ocean that were completely decimated, where every home was wiped off the face of the earth—except for an occasional wall or two that was left standing,” said Kenneth Magnuson, associate professor of Christian ethics and a participant in the trip. “And we were told it was like that for something like 200 miles down the coast.

“Thousands of wells were filled with salt water. Rice fields were completely destroyed. We drove by a mass grave where 47,000 people were buried in a field the size of a football field.”

Because of the tremendous need for fresh water, local residents frequently called upon the team from Southern to pump out wells. Four members of the team—Magnuson, fellow professors Brad Waggoner and George Martin and master of divinity student Jeff Masengale—made clearing wells one of their primary activities.

“People would see us and come from all around to ask if we could pump their well, hoping to restore fresh water,” Magnuson said. “They would express great appreciation for doing that and often would offer something to drink, giving us an opportunity to receive their hospitality and to talk with them.”

Waggoner, who serves as dean of the school of leadership and church ministry, said the Indonesian people were “very friendly, warm and appreciative of our efforts to help them.”

“I was expecting some anti-Western and anti-Christian hostility, but I never sensed that at all,” Waggoner said. “Most people smiled at us and treated us with great respect.”

Lisa Call, a master of arts student from Macon, Ga., who participated in the trip, said serving tsunami victims opened doors to speak a message of hope to people in the region.

“Every person we met had stories of family members and friends who died in the earthquake or the tsunami, and I am so thankful that we were able to go there for such a time as this,” she said. “God opened the door a couple of times for us to share truth in love with people that we befriended, and they were very open and curious about what we believed. Being able to meet some of their physical needs also allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate His love for them in a very practical way.

“The needs there are great and the task is bigger than I imagined before seeing this area with my own eyes. I definitely believe that the coming months and years of relief work and recovery following the tsunami will have a significant impact on the spiritual climate of Indonesia.”

Waggoner noted that rebuilding efforts lag far behind what he expected before arriving in Southeast Asia.

“I was very surprised by the lack of international rebuilding efforts,” he said. “We saw some temporary housing shelters, but I was expecting to see a lot more. There was little evidence of heavy equipment for the cleaning up and rebuilding efforts. I think I saw one bulldozer at work and one or two backhoes. It seemed to me that a lot more should be taking place when you consider the amount of money donated for relief efforts.”

Magnuson said the trip opened his eyes to the need for continuing relief efforts in the region for years to come.

“The devastation that remains is almost incomprehensible and is pretty close to the devastation immediately after the tsunami,” Magnuson said. “Some work has been done, and medical clinics have helped a lot of people, and survivors have begun to rebuild their lives and pick up the pieces. But the rebuilding work is not something that will be completed in a month. This is going to be years, and even decades.”

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