The Orchard Blog

Tsunami Update by orchardblog
January 3, 2005, 1:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just received this email from our friend, Jim Larson in Thailand:

The air is thick with the smell of death on Phi Phi Island. The small body of land with majestic hills and gentle beaches seems ready-made for a vacation center. Most of the facilities of Phi Phi Island resort are built on a narrow isthmus, perhaps 250 meters wide. It was here that hundreds European tourists and Thai workers were enjoying a clear tropical morning after Christmas. Rising just a few feet above sea level, the small strip of land offered little opportunity for escape.

I came here on New Years Day with five other pastors to participate with Buddhist monks and Muslim imams in a government-sponsored interfaith memorial service. The gathering provided an opportunity for us to share, however briefly, a Christian message. It took place in what must have been an outdoor eating area, on the upper floor of a solid concrete building that withstood the flood. Nearby on three sides, workers were still digging for bodies, while helicopters came and went.

Afterwards we wandered around some of the wreckage, along with journalists, volunteers and a few visitors desperate for clues. A Swedish couple had already spent five days hunting for their daughter. I offered to pray with them, but they turned me down. A cart wheeled past with two bodies bundled in plastic. Some workers, presumably resort employees, were clearing debris and collecting salvageable items. A fire was started to burn trash. The smoke mixed with the smell of decaying flesh. We were given face masks. When we made our way back to the ferry, we had to step carefully around the dozen or so plastic-shrouded bodies lying on the pier.

Bodies from Phi Phi join others from the area at the temporary morgue in the mainland town of Krabi. Here coffins are stacked waiting for burial, and bodies by the dozens still await identification. Bulletin boards at the entrance display photos of the missing and photos of recovered remains. Most are near the point where visual recognition is no longer possible.At the main cemetery a mass grave, about about150 meters long. is ready.

Tragedy brings far more questions than answers. Ban Namkhem used to be a fishing village of an estimated 5,000 people. Only a few are known to have survived. On the other hand, there are the “could have been me” stories–people who were not at the shoreline when they had planned to be, or those who survived the flood. We ourselves had considered spending Christmas on the beach ourselves, but our work kept us from getting there. Will that Swedish couple ever forgive God for taking their daughter? Will the woman who survived the loss of her whole village ever be able to love again? Only God knows.

But despite the questions, God always makes a point. Rich Mullins, whose own death was a terrible tragedy, wrote, “When He rolls up His sleeves He ain’t puttin’ on the ritz / Our God is an awesome God.” God’s point varies according to person and place, but it’s always there. One result in Thailand is pastors uniting together across denominations to bring help to poor Thais who lost everything. The region has a sizable Islamic population. Krabi for instance is 45% Muslim. One pastor, who uses Simon Lee as his English name, has a church in the far southern province of Songkla. Simon, who wasted no time making friends with the imams at yesterday’s gathering, hopes that one of the silver linings of this dark cloud will be an opportunity to share Jesus’ love with Muslim people.

For us, God’s point is simple: we’re in the right place. Asia is full of beautiful people that He loves desperately. It makes us more desperate to let them know. Thank you for sharing that heart with us.

By His grace,

Jim for Team Larson


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