India (MNN) — Last week, evacuations helped thousands survive the biggest storm India faced in over a decade. Tensions ran high leading up to Cyclone Phailin's landfall last Saturday; some feared it would be a repeat of the 1999 Odisha Cyclone, which killed over 10,000 people in the same region.
Thanks to government-ordered evacuations in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, along with the increased popularity of radio and mobile devices, crisis was averted. But another one's on its heels.
"Most of these reports are off the mainstream media, they've kind of gone by the wayside because the death rate was not so big," notes Danny Punnose with Gospel for Asia.
As international attention turns to other headlines and India's government concludes its work in disaster-affected regions, Phailin survivors are left to fend for themselves.
Approximately 900,000 people were evacuated from Odisha ahead of Phailin and its 140-mph winds. State officials say over 500,000 people have lost their homes. Across both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, more than 100 million acres of damaged crops translate into lost livelihoods for impoverished farmers.
"You're talking 12 million people affected and 300,000 homes gone," he states. "This is where we step in because our people are there; our churches are there…they're already reaching out ground-zero where people are most-affected."
See an initial damage assessment from GFA's Compassion teams.
In the northern state of Bihar, along Nepal's border, believers felt Phailin's wrath as the storm moved inland. More than 15 people lost their lives, and the homes of another 95 Christ-followers were destroyed.
Dakshina Nadig, a regional pastor in Bihar, reported the death of one believer’s 7-month-old daughter due to exposure to the severe cold, wind, and rain. Nine GFA-supported pastors’ homes collapsed from the extreme weather, and other affected believers are staying with friends in schools or in makeshift tents made from tarps.
Punnose says many of those affected in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Bihar are Dalits. This people group is the lowest on India's caste system, often regarded as "social lepers," or Untouchables.
"When you come from that kind of background, especially Dalit background…and you lost everything…you have no hope; you have no way to rebuild your life," he explains. "The greatest need right now is for giving people hope and direction, and that's what our people are doing."
As they do, the Gospel comes to life and hearts change.
"When the Gospel goes along with tangible expressions of love it really makes a huge impact on these people's lives," says Punnose.
"People are turning to the Lord, and they're responding because they see love in action."
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"This is not like [Hurricane] Katrina where FEMA comes in, the government comes in, and they do something, everyone gets back on their feet after a little bit," Punnose explains.
Ranked at Category 3, 2005's Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the United States at the end of August. According to 2010 data from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, over 1 million people in the Gulf region were displaced by the storm.
For the 12 million people affected by Cyclone Phailin in India's eastern states, especially the Dalits, there is no "safety net" of governmental help.
"No one's going to be there to rebuild their homes; they're done," says Punnose. "Unless the Body of Christ makes this an opportunity to reach out to those people and help them, nothing will be done."
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"Use Facebook, use Twitter; 'Share' it," encourages Punnose. "Let people know that they can pray and they can give, and that they can actually make a difference in these people's lives."
Pray for protection for those who survived Phailin's wrath. Pray that someone will share the hope and love of Christ with them.
"They don't have food, they don't have shelter, they don't have clean water; they've lost everything, and they've lost all hope," summarizes Punnose.
Ask the Lord to fill your heart with compassion.
"Put yourself in their place and pray for them. Until our hearts are filled with compassion…we are going to see this simply as news information, not real life," Punnose says.
"The Bible tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion. [It] wasn't that He felt sorry for them, He really, really understood their condition, and it broke His heart; and then He would act based on that."