Tsunamis happen more often than we think. Just this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded four. In 2016, it recorded seven. In 2014, it recorded 11. Now that’s a lot of tsunamis. Thankfully, the majority haven’t been large enough to cause extensive damage, with waves cresting less than a foot above sea level. What a relief! But then there are times when the waves, upon reaching shore, reach heights of 10, 30, even 300 feet.
Tall walls of water crescendo and collide into coastlines, coursing through every crevice, collecting chunk after chunk of sea-side homes and business, sweeping away thousands of pounds of metal in the shapes of buses and other motor vehicles.
Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children and grandparents run, their backs to foaming black water that threatens to steal their lives.
Tsunamis. One of the “costliest and deadliest forces of nature.”
The United Nations declared Nov. 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day because of the amount of devastation this natural disaster creates. The day is attributed as being the “brainchild” of Japan, which is noted for experiencing a significantly higher volume of tsunamis than other countries.
But tsunamis can happen anywhere—including America. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), “Many places along the U.S. coastline fall in tsunami danger zones. The most destructive tsunamis in the United States and territories have happened along the coasts of Alaska, American Samoa, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and Washington.”
The deadliest of all tsunamis happened in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, and affected 14 countries. Thousands upon hundreds of thousands of people felt its impact—especially those who are part of the GFA world.
Gospel for Asia-supported workers serving in Sri Lanka and India experienced the fatal tidal waves and lived in its aftermath. The story below is about one Gospel for Asia-supported pastor named Sagardut who served in Tamil Nadu, India, when the tsunami made impact.
After the Waves Left
“The ocean is coming! The ocean is coming!”
Sagardut heard the frightened shouts as he stood inside the church building. The Gospel for Asia-supported pastor was preparing for Sunday worship, but the commotion outside drew him away. He stepped through the church doors and saw people running, crying and screaming in terror of the danger that loomed on the horizon.
“The ocean is coming!”
As the crowds ran away, Sagardut jumped on his motorbike to investigate what was causing all of this chaos. The nearer he got to the villages by the seashore, the more devastation he saw.
The first wave had reached Tamil Nadu, India, where he was serving. The second wave was on its way.
“The ocean is coming!”
Sagardut could see the black wall of water towering 30 feet in the air. He was only 300 yards away from a force devouring houses, cars and people in seconds.
This is going to kill everybody, he thought.
Sagardut quickly turned his motorbike around and joined the masses fleeing to save their lives.
The Deadliest Tsunami
Sagardut had escaped the deadliest and most destructive tsunami in history. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake, said to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, thrust the Indian Ocean seafloor upward, resulting in a series of killer waves that devastated the coastal lines of 14 countries from Indonesia to Africa.
When Sagardut came back to the village, he saw bodies floating in the waters. Thorn bushes had trapped women with long hair, so he went over to free their bodies and lay them on the dry roadside. Then he drew out the next body he saw, and then the next one.
As he helped clear the water of the deceased, a deep sorrow filled his heart seeing people who had died within seconds. They had no warning. In an instant, more than 200,000 lives were gone—and now Sagardut and the other tsunami survivors were left to cope with sudden unexplainable grief and a world of uncertainties.
Relieving the Grief
Everywhere Pastor Sagardut went, people were crying and unleashing their agony in mournful screams. For days, months and even years that followed that catastrophic day, people lived in fear of the ocean, wondering if another tsunami would come to finish off what the first one left behind.
“I remember thinking, It is the last days. The Lord’s coming is very near,” Pastor Sagardut recalls. “Then, at the same time, I knew it was my responsibility to rescue these people and bring them [the love of] Christ. … That’s what was on my mind.”
Because Sagardut and other Gospel for Asia-supported workers were already ministering in the region when the tsunami hit, survivors didn’t have to wait long to receive aid. Pastor Sagardut, and the believers who escaped death, immediately began bringing relief and especially comfort to those who lived to see another day.
They provided rice, milk and other food items, along with pots to cook with. People with injuries received medicine. Sagardut even took some to the hospital to receive treatment.
“When we saw people who had no home, we gave them shelter,” Sagardut says. “When we saw people who did not have clothes, we gave them the clothes we had. When we saw people who were in fear . . . we prayed for them and comforted them.”
What About the Future?
The immediate relief helped ease some of the tsunami survivors’ grief. But then came the long-term questions: Where will I live in a month? How am I going to earn an income? How am I going to live without my family? The questions weren’t easy to answer, but Pastor Sagardut knew more help would come.
Once the waters receded, Gospel for Asia began building permanent homes for the tsunami survivors. Boats and fishing nets, even goats and chickens, were given to families who had lost their only source of income. Gospel for Asia-supported Bridge of Hope centers were established to take in, educate and love children who had lost their mother or father—or in some cases, both parents.
When the waves took away Chiranjeev’s house, belongings and cattle, Gospel for Asia pastors began taking care of him and his family.
“We were struggling,” Chiranjeev remembers. “But at that particular time, Gospel for Asia came to help us. They started giving us food, clothes, and they . . . started building houses for us. Even I got one of these houses. Gospel for Asia took care of us at the right time, when we were really going through pain and struggle in our lives.”
A Decade of Recovery
Ten years later, Pastor Sagardut still serves the people he helped when the tsunami waves crashed into his region. He visits their homes; he prays for them; he offers them comfort in the arms of Jesus when the painful memories come back.
He knows people all over the world helped provide relief and long-term care for his fellow tsunami survivors, and his heart overflows with gratitude.
“Because of them,” Sagardut says, “many people [embraced] Christ, many people were rescued, and now many people no longer live with anxiety or fear.”
Gospel for Asia is thankful for days such as World Tsunami Awareness Day that bring awareness to the tragedies that happen when natural disasters strike and urge people to be prepared. One earthquake, one landslide, one ginormous wall of water can change everything for hundreds of thousands of people…in one day. But when people are prepared, when people come together to help that, too, can make a world of difference.
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