Central Asia (MNN) — Last week, the headlines trumpeted the urgency of another major disaster in Central Asia.
There were pictures of desperate survivors bracing for a freezing night in the rubble of their earthquake-flattened homes, pictures of rescuers searching for survivors, warnings of the devastation to come, and the climbing death tolls.
Seven days later, those stories have all but disappeared from the world stage. Because Monday’s 7.5 magnitude quake hit squarely in a sparsely-populated mountainous region of Afghanistan, the damage was far less than it would have been in a city. Rugged terrain, severed communication lines, and an unstable security situation have impeded relief efforts.
In Pakistan, the quake hit a heavily-populated area, and damage was extensive. Forgotten Missionaries International national director for Pakistan estimates that 500 people have died as a result of the recent quake, and more than 3000 injured individuals are overwhelming the local hospitals and clinics. U.S. director Bruce Allen says the slow crisis response was surprising. “The help that is needed is not for those who have died. It is for those who have survived. In a case like this, you have up to 10,000 homes being destroyed. You’re talking about an immediate displacement of people the size of a city like Wichita, KS, or New Haven, CT.”
Pakistan initially turned away offers of international assistance–another possible contributing factor in why the story slipped off global consciousness so quickly. Allen is quick to point out that despite assurances the government could handle the crisis internally, “They [the survivors] have no place to live. They’ve lost all their possessions. What do they do when their own government is saying, ‘We can handle it on our own?’ It’s very difficult for the Pakistani government to do that.”
Then, the National Disaster Management Authority announced the number of houses damaged in the quake nearly doubled from 14,000 to more than 25,000. Still, government authorities have not granted international aid groups permission to carry out aid activities, and relief agencies are unable to reach some areas in Pakistan that were devastated by this week’s earthquake.
Allen says, “Even though larger international aid organizations or [foreign] governments aren’t being able to render assistance, FMI still can. We already have more than two dozen church planters and evangelists that are supported, that are indigenous–many of them living in the areas that are affected.” Survivors now face a race to rebuild with winter fast approaching. They’re appealing for aid, expressing fears for children in particular who were forced to sleep outside in sub-zero temperatures as winter sets in.
The local church network is equipped, trained, and ready to support their communities. All that needs to happen now, says Allen, is to resource them. “A gift of $50 can help with making sure that a small family has a set of warm clothes and the blankets they need. A gift of $100 can provide that for a larger family–a family of four, as well as provide food for a week.”
Basically, Allen is asking believers to stand with the Church in Pakistan and reflect the unshakable compassion of Christ to those whose world has been upended. ”One of the great things about having the Christians in a Muslim-dominant culture doing that is that it opens so many opportunities for people to have dialogue. ‘Why are you helping me? You’re a Christian and I’m a Muslim.’ People say, ‘I’m helping you because this is what Jesus does for us.’”
The world may have forgotten the quake survivors, or it may have decided to let the national governments deal with the crisis internally because of Pakistan’s cues. Recovery is going to take a long time. FMI’s team will be at the forefront of an exhausting journey. However, Allen says, knowing that other followers of Christ are praying for them in the days ahead goes a long way to encouraging a strong finish. “When they realize that they are not forgotten, that the rest of the world knows about their plight and here are Christians form the other side of the planet that say, ‘We want to stand with you,’ that’s one of the things that really recharges those batteries for them.”