Two years after tsunami: suffering, silver linings

By Kim Krull

  • Expanding an orphanage in Sri Lanka.

  • Providing metal storage cabinets in India.

  • Rebuilding fishing boats in Thailand.

When you’re talking about the aftermath of one of deadliest disasters in modern history, those efforts may sound small.

But two years after the Asian tsunami left nearly 230,000 people dead or missing and dramatically overturned the lives of hundreds of thousands otsunami boatf survivors, those are examples of some relatively small projects that are making a big difference in otherwise overlooked niches, says Darin Storkson, LCMS World Relief/Human Care’s regional director in Asia.

“We aren’t playing a role in large infrastructure projects, but we are finding niches where we can make the most impact, especially in smaller communities that have been overlooked by other organizations,” said Storkson, referring to relief work since the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake triggered a series of deadly tsunamis.  “Because the scale of this disaster was absolutely apocalyptic and unprecedented, huge needs remain.”

About $1.8 million donated by LCMS World Relief/Human Care contributors has been designated for projects that meet physical and spiritual needs in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Today, those funds are at work in tsunami-impacted areas where hundreds of thousands of people still live in relief camps.  Unemployment runs high.  Young people who would normally be in school or at jobs sit idle and grow restless, says Storkson, who is based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

In countries with overwhelming challenges, Storkson says LCMS World Relief/Human Care strives to find pockets that have been overlooked, often because they are either remotely located or less populous than other areas.  Sometimes, religious affiliations play a factor.

Whenever possible, Storkson seeks Lutheran partners, including the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) and the Lanka Lutheran Church in Sri Latsunami childrennka.  But even these LCMS partner churches have limited capacity and tremendous challenges.

“Lutheran partners are eager for our collaboration,” said Storkson.  “By working with these local Lutheran partners, we help them build new relationships and a platform for projects into the future.”

Many tsunami-related projects are in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries.  Storkson also works closely with LCMS World Mission.

“Our LCMS World Mission colleagues and I collaborate closely on how to channel our aid in the most strategic fashion,” he said.  “We are reaching new plateaus of ministry through our partnership, and that’s exciting.”

LCMS World Relief/Human Care worked in cooperation with LCMS World Mission to build 90 homes in Indonesia, the country most devastated by the tsunami.  In Chennai, India, a project in partnership with the IELC reaches out to orphans and other children affected by the tsunami by meeting education and medical needs.

Looking ahead, plans are in the works for LCMS World Relief/Human Care to provide medical assistance to a chain of remote Indonesian islands near Sumatra.  These projects include purchasing and outfitting a medical mission boat, a four-wheel drive mobile clinic, and a corollary program to provide essential medications.

“There are a half-million people with no hospital or access to medical care,” Storkson said.  “The health-care needs are huge.”

Working with Lutheran partners and finding under-served niches takes time and is “incredibly challenging,” Storkson said.  “We’re not simply channeling money to the first available organization.  We’re choosing the hard road by working hands-on with our smaller Lutheran partners and helping them build for the future.”

Two years after the tsunami, relief efforts have moved far past the emergency crisis and into the reconstruction phase.  Still, survivors struggle with “the incredible tragedy and suffering,” Storkson said.  But he does see glimmers of “silver linings.”

These include the end of a bloody civil war in Indonesia.  Doors are opening, most notably in Indonesia, a heavily Muslim country where church leaders interested in confessional Lutheran renewal warmly welcome LCMS partnership opportunities.

On a smaller scale, Storkson elaborates about that aforementioned project to rebuild boats for Thai fishermen.  In its first phase, the project supplied vessels for about 25 families.

“Of those (fishermen), all but three ended up being baptized in the local Lutheran church, a Lutheran Church of Canada mission,” Storkson said.  “Relationships are building, and I have no doubt that exciting things are in the future.”

LCMS World Relief/Human Care is the mercy arm of the LCMS.  To learn more, visit or call (800) 248-1930, Ext. 1380.

Posted Dec. 27, 2006

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