SBC Gives $10 Million to Tsunami Relief; Pledges to Build Community Centers, Not Churches

Southern Baptist gifts to the tsunami relief effort have topped $10 million by February 17, marking an “unprecedented outpouring of compassion” by the 16-million member denomination.

According to Baptist Press, a total of $10,209,000 has been collected by Southern Baptist churches and individuals over the last two months since the deadly tsunami struck South Asia. Of the $10 million, only $2.5 million has been disbursed for nearly 50 aid projects across South and Southeast Asia. Much of the costs have gone for primary care such as food, water and medical care, temporary shelter and sanitation efforts.

"The resources we're using have come through Southern Baptists, but they've come from God," said Jim Brown, the mission board’s specialist for world hunger and relief ministries, to BP. "When it's all said and done, I'm sure we will have utilized all we've received -- and then some. With a crisis of this magnitude, it may take a year. It may take two years or even longer. But it's going to give our people the opportunity for building long-term relationships" in many places once difficult to reach by outsiders.

The remaining funds will help long-term projects run in months to coming.

”They will support ongoing relief as well as longer-term efforts to help ravaged communities recover and rebuild. Every penny given will go to tsunami-related ministry,” according to BP.

Don Dent, International Mission Board regional leader for mission work in the Pacific Rim, explained that while much of the Southern Baptist work in the region has been in “emergency disaster response” mode, the volunteers will now transition to longer term reconstruction and development efforts.

"So far we've been doing emergency disaster response," said Dent to BP. "We were there early, and we were there with people who knew the language and culture, supported by volunteers who have been meeting needs. We've done feeding. We've done a lot of medical work. We've dug mass graves for villages. We've cleaned out houses so people can move back in out of the weather. We've done some building projects already. We knew the funds were there because Southern Baptists were responding immediately and generously."

In the months ahead, the work is "going to need to transition to more reconstruction and development of [local] economies, which is great because there's a lot of relationship building we can do."

And in light of the sensitivities involved with proselytism and evangelism in the mostly-Muslim countries hit by the Tsunami, Dent said now is not the time to build churches.

"It's a time to build community centers or schools or housing," he said. "We have teams booked for all the openings that we have for the next three months at least. We're hoping for long-term openings."

According to Dent, the government may limit access to disaster-struck areas because of the long-running conflicts that was in the region much prior to the Tsunami.

"By July or August, most of the groups now working in Aceh [Indonesia] probably will not be there any longer," Dent said. "We're hoping and planning and working toward being there for the next year or two. But it's hard to project how open it's going to be and how many people we're going to be able to put in there.

"Not everyone is happy that foreigners are in these places. Not everyone wants us there. But Christians are having an impact. People are overwhelmed that foreigners are coming and helping them. We just ask people to keep praying that the long-term opportunity will be there.

“I'm asking people to pray that God will open a door that no man can shut."