Tsunamis & Amazing Movements in the South

Remember the tsunami?  No, not the one which just devastated Japan, but the one just over 5 years ago (Dec. 26, 2004) which swept into Sumatra, Thailand, and other Indian Ocean countries?

As we contemplate the destruction in Japan, as we marvel at the sheer force and power of earthquakes and water to alter the landscape of countless lives, it is hard not to question why God allows such things to happen.  But as Ruthie and I have dealt with personal tragedy and asked the questions, "Why, why, why?", we've not always gotten the answers.  But, we've come to peace by settling on this question instead:  "What for?"  What does God want to accomplish in us and in his Kingdom as we respond and grieve and grow?   

For us, this is the important question for Japan right now, a question I know is much on the minds of our friends there. I believe that as God's people in Japan and elsewhere respond in love and care and hard work, amazing things are going to happen.   

I saw this reality in the south of Thailand in January.  I had an opportunity to travel with Curt Peterson and Kyle & Lyndsey Small, pastors and members of the World Mission Committee in the Covenant,  as Jim Gustafson took us to visit the work of SDRF (Sustainable Development Research Foundation), the Thai organization of which he is a part.

Here's the story.  Shortly after the tsunami hit, Jim and Nujon Singpila, the President of SDRF,  felt God directing them to visit the communities in the south to see if there were some ways they could help with the recovery.  SDRF, though the years, has gained much experience in fresh-water fisheries--spawning and raising tilapia fish as a way to generate income and liveihoods for communities in Northeast Thailand.  Was there a way that this experience in fisheries could be used to help fishing communities in the south?    

This was the question they felt God asking them.  And they posed this question to the local fisheries department where they were visiting.  "Yes, come and help us--you're welcome," is the answer they were given.  "But don't just come for a short time and then leave.  We want to know that you're committed to us long-term."  So SDRF went into action buying fishing nets and material needed to re-build the livelihoods of fishing communities on the island of Koh Yaow, just across the bay from Thailand's famous Phuket resort.     

Jim & pearls

Jim Gustafson showing some of the products MRI is working on as a source of income foor tsunami-affected communities.

Then, in a seemingly-unrelated development, two women, Toon and Srinuan, heard through a network of friends that Nujon was traveling in the south.  They were suffering from HIV-Aids and knew many people in the same predicament.  They virtually dared Nujon to care--and to pay a visit.

When Jim and Nujon did visit, they prayed for them and brainstormed about ways they could help.  Toon and Srinuan came to faith.  Nujon encouraged them to start attending meetings for government programs distributing anti retro-viral drugs, and through this they started to build relationships with many in this community.  When Toon finally succumbed to the aids-related illnesses in her body, Srinuan took up the mantle of leadership and continued sharing her faith to the many people she was meeting.    

Srinuan, the woman on the left, tells the story of how God has saved and changed her and her husband, and used them to reach out to many people in this extended network

One of those was a man whose health had wasted away, reducing him to nearly half his normal body weight.  He had already made arrangements for his funeral and prepared the portrait  that would sit in front of his casket.  When the team prayed for him he took on new hope.  He started gaining weight, his countenance changed.  And within a few short weeks he was a totally different person!  Eventually he married Srinuan!

As we sat and listened to these stories and heard of how God's grace has changed the lives of these leaders, I was amazed, again about the power of the gospel to transform us!  Then, as we visited the Marine Research Institute on Koh Yaow island and saw some of the interesting projects SDRF hopes will be sources of income for fishing communities, I am thankful, again for the creative energy of God's faithful servants.   

Curt Peterson and Jim Gustafson on the floating platforms of the Marine Research Institute, Koh Yaow 


Here are a few things I took away from my visit to the South... 

  • We need to be opportunists for God!  Jim and Nujon and SDRF saw a need and responded.  They didn't sit around and debate the issues for weeks on end but got close to the situation, met the people, and came up with some practical plans that lay within the abilities they had as an organization.
  • As they moved, God provided the resources.  Many churches had a part, many people gave money and time.
  • This effort was a true partnership of "outsiders" (Jim and Nujon)--and "insiders"  (Toon & Srinuan and others in those communities).

A lot more could be said, but this is an on-going story.  At present there are about 500 new believers; many of them have been baptized during several big gatherings.  Many lives have been transformed through the power of the gospel.  Amazing.