Christian aviators help Bangladeshi cyclone victims

By November 26, 2007

Bangladesh (MNN) — Bangladesh continues to be the focus of a massive relief effort. According to reports, millions of people have been displaced by Cyclone Sidr, hundreds have been killed, and many are still missing. Many remote regions have yet to be reached with relief.

Mission Aviation Fellowship is just one of the organizations working there. MAF's John Woodberry spoke to us from the Los Angeles airport en route to Bangladesh to help reinforce the MAF team. MAF has an established base there, but Woodberry says they're now ratcheting up their work. "Right now we're flying supplies and people in during the assessment phase and getting help to where it's most urgently needed. But we're also looking at providing emergency communications as forward hubs get established. They're closest to the people of need."

According to Woodberry, the need is great. "Four million people have been displaced; about 3,000 people have died; 300,000 homes have been destroyed. Access is terrible to the coast. So we've been flying non-stop, pretty much, to try to get people in and out so relief can go where it's most needed."

The city of Patharghata (pah-trah-GAH-tah) with an estimated population of 40,000 was especially hard hit. "They had a shelter, but it could only hold 150. And this cyclone was much worse than any they ever had before, so they only got 300 into the shelter. And if you can imagine, when the storm hit, tons of people were left outside. In that village, 2,000 people died."

The water was said to push inland and churned throughout the city for close to 30 minutes. Families tied each other together with rope then attached to large trees. After the cyclone moved farther inland, the villagers said all of the water suddenly rushed out of the town and back out to sea, pulling thousands of people and hundreds of animals and homes with it. Woodberry says, "It was like pulling the plug on the drain in your bath tub all of a sudden."

Water for the people in all of these areas is a huge need. The Patharghata story is one of many cities along the coast of hundreds cities and villages that have been hit. Reports indicate that the cyclone was hundreds of kilometers wide, so the path of devastation is wide. Most people who live in this very poor region of Bangladesh have homes made of straw, wood, and a tin roof.

Woodberry says their goal is simple. "We hope God can use the gifting and abilities He's given us to help and love people in His name. God works in His time and in miraculous ways, so we just want to be faithful."

MAF is dealing with more flight requests than they can handle, so Woodberry is asking for prayer. "MAF is one of two civilian operators there in the country," he says. "And so, pray that we have wisdom that we do the requests that are most urgent."

Pray also that God's love, grace and mercy will pour out on them and through it that they will be drawn to Him.

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