The day after Christmas 2004, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Indonesia and triggered a tsunami that swept into multiple nations bordering the Indian Ocean, wiping away entire communities and bringing devastation. An estimated 228,000 people were killed and nearly two million were left homeless in a dozen nations including Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India. Hardest hit, though, was Aceh Province, Indonesia, which bore the tsunami’s terrible brunt and took the lives of some 169,000. As international disaster relief groups flew in to offer aid to stricken countries and communities, Southern Baptist volunteers were among those responding with compassion and care.
By mid-February 2005, contributions from Southern Baptist churches and individuals surpassed $10 million—an unprecedented amount—to be used for tsunami-related aid projects across South and Southeast Asia. “We were there early, and we were there with people who knew the language and culture, supported by volunteers who [met] needs,” said Don Dent, then IMB’s regional leader for the Pacific Rim. Southern Baptist volunteers fed the hungry, met medical needs, cleared mud out of houses, and dug mass graves for villagers. Dent explained that Christians serving these Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist communities, were having an impact and asked Southern Baptists in the US to keep praying “that God will open a door that no man can shut.”
The local government funded art projects in the tsunami survivor camps. Southern Baptists provided ongoing relief work for a full year after the tsunami, bringing food every day to a number of camps, as well as doing children’s activities and English language classes. Southern Baptists also provided funding for fishermen to rebuild their boats and replace the nets they lost in the tsunami.