I have written several posts on the humanitarian aspect of what we do. The most notable is 'A Gift of Hope'. Our team does disaster. We have responded to more than sixteen significant disasters since 1998. We have learned lessons in all of these, some from our sucesses but usually through our mistakes. The following story belongs to Gimli who lives in Ithilian in the high mountains of eastern Gondor.
Global warming is a reality. I know many want to dispute it. If it is not happening we don't have to do anything about it. But for us this reality has already impacted our lives. Our glaciers are melting. High in the mountains above Ithilien glaciers have sat for thousands of years- ok, if you are a 'young earth' adherent just a few of thousand years. Now they are melting and that is impacting the lives of those below. Almost four years ago now a glacier high up above the little village of Andros formed a lake on its lip. No one knew about it as it formed, grew, then began to edge toward the lip of the glacier. One night the edge gave way. Suddenly. The water spilled over the edge of the glacier down the valley. Because of the unusual warmth the permafrost in the valley had begun to melt. As the water rushed down the valley it picked up speed and tons of mud. It came toward a narrow gap in the mountains which is where Andros sits. The village is built on the steep slopes on either side of the gap. When the water and mud hit the gap at three o'clock in the morning the villagers heard a mighty roar and the ground shook. They hurried up the sides of the mountain as fast as they could. The water and mud squirted out of the gap like water out of a garden hose with your thumb partially covering the end. Twenty four people were buried instantly.
The Emergency Services notified Gimli and his wife that morning. The jumped into their truck and headed up the valley to the village just a couple of hours away. There was a young lady who needed a ride up the valley so they picked her up. As they wound around the bend of the valley and came within sight of the village the lady cried out. It was her village- but it was gone. The entire landscape had been changed. Where there had been a village next to a river there was a huge mud flat. A few houses up the sides of the mountain were all that were left. The Emergency Services moved into action. Rescue was tried but everyone was either safe or buried beneath fifty feet of mud. They are still there today. The displaced were sheltered in the few remaining homes. Gimli called me to see what resources we had. We had two avenues of aid that should be interesting to you. First, the IMB provides very well for disaster response. In an emergency we on the field can spend up to $5000 before we even asked for it (this number has recently been moved to $10,000). The money comes from the Hunger and Relief Fund that the SBC has had for years. Quick Plug- Give generously! We use this money in our ministry constantly. Secondly, we had just loaded up our truck with relief supplies for Mordor. We called our folks in Mordor and they confirmed that they did not need the supplies urgently, we could divert them to Ithilien. So, we sent the truck the next day to Andros. Gimli, who works well with the Emergency Services people, went back up to the village the next day with the truck. Many trucks of aid had been sent by Government agencies and some other NGO's. They were lined up on the opposite side of the river from the village. The Government was not allowing them to cross. It had been decided by the central government that the people would be relocated and thus all aid should go to the new location. The trouble was that the people did not want to be taken away. A forced relocation is one of the most difficult situations for an NGO to work. We are here at the invitation of the Government and if we interfere with the Government we could jepardize our presence. If we do nothing people suffer.
Gimli didn't need my advice to decide what to do. He did asked me first though. I told him to go and distribute. But he should make it a distribution not to the displaced but to those who were keeping them in their homes. Those folks have precious little in the mountains and extra mouths to feed in their homes was a real burden. As soon as our truck crossed the river many of the other trucks crossed as well.
The next week the Government made a plan to ship out about 500 people. They were to be moved to the southwest corner of the country to a terrible spot which I will call Harad. Harad has very little water, the ground is salty, and it is 120 degrees in the summertime. Not my favorite vacation spot.
So, After a couple of paragraphs and a few hundred words here is the scenerio: 500 people relocated to an area that can not possibly support them and forty or so families left in the washout of what was their village. Due to the fact that the relocation of the families was forced most international aid agencies would have nothing to do with helping the people (because aiding these people would be tantamount to aiding the Government to be unjust).
Enter Gimli and his wife Galadrial. They are deeply moved by the plight of these people and the King had given Gimli and I the mandate and authority to intervene in the lives of disaster victims years ago. They were ready and they went to work. First, Gimli did the distribution of food to the families who were still in Andros. He met with the village leaders. He met with Government officials. He knew the score. Then he went out to Harad. He visited the people and the local governmnent officials there. The local mayor did not want these people as they were an extra headache for him. Gimli distributed food to those who were starving at night. Then he went back up to Andros. What was next? The village made the call.
In talking to Gimli about writing this post I asked him about the projects he did. He said, 'The people were the project.' The individual humanitarian works that he did were not the important thing. He assisted and they themselves built a canal, a flour mill, a bridge but the real work of aid was the people themselves. They were grieving, hopeless, in despair about the disaster, their way of life changing, the injustice done to them. Several families moved back- without documents or permission. What was to be done? Some of these issues are yet to be resolved.
The bridge was the biggest and most ambitious project. The Government and one of the largest aid agencies in the country both looked at the bridge and said, 'no way.' There had been a bridge that was fit for cars and trucks that spanned the river between the main road and the village. The steel span was 30 meters long and four meters wide. It had been swept down the river and was more than three quarters buried in the mud in the middle of the river. But, this bridge was a key source of identity for the community. It was of huge psychological and emotional value to them. With it they were important and connected. Without it they were isolated, alone, and backwards. Gimli told them that if it was that important to them that he would help. The men of Andros worked tirelessly in what is a very long and dramatic story. The river ran shallow during the winter. The men dug in the frozen mud for weeks in a project that stretched into months and finally more than a year. There was no crane or heavy machinery available. They moved it out by hand. Gimli made frequent visits. He stood up in front of the whole village as they worked and told stories from the Word. He prayed frequently for the project. Today the bridge is complete and I had the privilige of walking across it this last summer.
The men of Andros credit the King and Gimli's intervention for them for the completion of the bridge. Gimli did not merely build a canal, a mill, a bridge. He was used by the King to build a community. And in all of this the King has been glorified. Has a church been started. Not yet. That ground is hard and this post would be interminably long to tell you all the issues we face living in a muslim country. There is reason to hope. Because all that I have told you about is not the result of University training or correspondance courses. It is not the result of some expert somewhere doing what he has been trained to do. Gimli and I firmly believe that we are doing precisely what the King has asked us to do. People were suffering. We shared compassion in the name of Jesus. It is obedience to the King and not training or clever strategy that will bring down the walls and take the city.
This is a long post to try and illustrate how we care for people in the name of Jesus. We continually assess how we can serve Him and the people better. My hope is that you will do the same. No small visions.