Poverty was First, then Came the Tsunami

"Folks are saying the tsunami was the first wave, and then the potential outbreak of disease is the second wave, but I think it was preceded by the wave of poverty.”

Such were the comments made Rev. Randy R. Day, top executive with the United Methodist Church (UMC) Board of Global Ministries, during his Jan. 12-16 trip to Indonesia.

Rev. Day left for the trip with a number of other UMC leaders, including Bishop Joel N. Martinez of San Antonio, president of the mission board; Kyung Za Yim, a director and president of the Women’s Division; the Rev. Larry Hollon, head of United Methodist Communications; the Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief; the Rev. David Wu, an Asian specialist with the mission agency; the Rev. Henry Leono, a pastor in Willingboro, N.J., who is a native of Indonesia; Linda Bloom, a reporter with United Methodist News Service (UMNS); and Mike DuBose, a photographer with United Methodist Communications.

“A lot of poor people were forced to live as squatters near the water because there was no other place for them," Day said to the UMNS on Jan. 14. "Folks are saying the tsunami was the first wave, and then the potential outbreak of disease is the second wave, but I think it was preceded by the wave of poverty.

"If we look at this right and we work with other NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and we really have a clear vision, then I think there doesn’t need to be a wave of poverty coming after all this," he said.

The delegation was visiting Sumatra, Indonesia, the place closes to the earthquake’s epicenter; the dead-count rose to 175,000 by January 16, according to Reuters. Millions are also vulnerable to disease and poverty.

People live in "terrible conditions, much, much too close to the water in many parts of the world, and we can’t be blind to that," explained Day. "The church has a paramount duty to lift that up and be concerned about it because that poverty literally killed a lot of people. I don’t think the fatalities would have to be nearly as high if people were not living that close to the water.

“Seeing the children and their parents was really a difficult thing for me, not only as a United Methodist agency person but as a father and a pastor for 30 years. Just seeing what they are going through was very hard,” added Day.

According to Rev. Hollon, the UMC is helping provide the shelter, food and pastoral care needed by the survivors.

"If there is a counterpoint to the tragedy, the counterpoint is seeing what the Methodist Church has done," Hollon said. In Banda Aceh, the Methodist Church organized a relief group called Agape and immediately provided medical care and food, he said.

"The power of the church has been in reaching out to people regardless of their religious affiliation. It has provided a presence that says to people there are those in the global community who care, and we are with you and we will stand with you,” he added.

At last count, donations to the UMC relief efforts were at $2 million dollars.

Donations to UMCOR’s “South Asia Emergency” relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance #274305 and “South Asia Emergency.” Online donations can be made at www.methodistrelief.org. Those making credit-card donations can call (800) 554-8583. One hundred percent of the money donated to “South Asia Emergency” goes to the relief effort.