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Alabama Baptists minister after earthquake in Indiacomment (0)

October 13, 2011

By Neisha Fuson

Overcoming roadblocks — both figurative and literal — in north India became a common theme for an Alabama Baptist missions team from The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, in late September.

After preparing for months for an evangelistic missions experience in the western section of Sikkim state Sept. 24–Oct. 2, the team learned only days before departing it would be needed in a remote mountain village to the north and east of the original location.

A magnitude-6.9 earthquake shook the mostly Nepalese area near the India-Nepal border Sept. 18 at 6:10 p.m.

The shock was felt even into Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. At press time, India was reporting 93 deaths, China six deaths and Nepal six deaths.

But the reports will most likely remain inaccurate in India because of the Hindu caste system, which prevents members of the lowest caste from being mentioned in death tolls, and the fact that some villages are unreachable.

Some deaths were from the earthquake, while others were from the landslides that followed it. Roads were blocked in numerous places around the affected area.

Because of potential disaster relief and medical needs, the team was diverted to a relief camp set up near the most accessible mountain village impacted by the earthquake.

National partners suggested the camp, hosted by a village in a valley area, as a place that would benefit most from the team’s time and the most easily accessible of the affected areas.

And so the team — an engineer, a paramedic, a law student, an agent at an accounting firm, a physical therapist and others under the leadership of Brook Hills member Casey Reeder — arrived in Delhi on Sept. 24 ready to tackle its new assignment.

Less than 10 hours later in a Jeep-like taxi, the team arrived in Mangan, where it had to obtain entry permits. Since the area has become highly dangerous after the earthquake and landslides, anyone who is not Lepcha (the people group in the area) must obtain a permit. Hours passed, along with countless prayers; the team waited, hoping to hear it had permission to enter.

The permits were obtained only because there was a physical therapist and paramedic on the team, allowing it to serve in medical relief.

Permits in hand, the team members became the only Americans to enter the area after the earthquake, passing over several landslides and shabby-looking bridges and through very tight squeezes along bumpy mountain roads to get there.

The timing of the team’s arrival was perfectly precise because if it had arrived even one day earlier, then the roads would not have been cleared from the landslides and fallen rocks, said Adam Reese, a Southern Baptist representative working in north India.

Reese, the team members and national partners who served as translators stayed at a Buddhist school, sleeping on cloth mats on the cold, gray concrete floor.

While nongovernmental organizations and others wanting to help supplied the nearby camp with rice, potatoes and tea, the team brought medical supplies, other food and water.  

More than 100 Lepcha and Nepalese people sought refuge and food at the camp, located about a half-mile up the hillside from where the road was too dangerous to pass by car.

Russ Kinniburgh, the physical therapist on the team, saw an elderly woman making her way through the crowds.

Her feeble hands held a cane that was about a foot too long in the wrong hand and backward.

Kinniburgh cut the cane down and taught her how to use it properly. The next day, she hobbled by with a smile, cane properly in place.

The team cleaned some minor wounds and taught a few long-term care practices to those at the camp.

Team members also had time to visit with the people and look for opportunities to share something greater than a bottle of water or a Band-Aid — hope.

The people opened up to the team members.

They invited them into their homes; gave them tea, or “chiya;” and listened as the smiling white faces shared stories about a man named Jesus.

Team member Chance Walters said, “As we were struggling to get (to the camp), it became frustrating and discouraging (to all of us).”

But, he added, “I see now that even if just one person heard the gospel, then all the trouble to get here was worth it.

“I won’t ever forget the spiritual battle that went on inside myself as I shared the Word. I thought, ‘Why isn’t it like this in Alabama?’ Well it’s because I don’t do anything in Alabama,” Walters said, half in jest and half serious.

“My spirit knows that progress is being made here for those who heard the gospel, but I felt like a used car salesman who couldn’t close a deal. But ultimately I feel like the Spirit was just saying, ‘You just remember this. There’s a reason the enemy is on you now. You are preaching the gospel. You are sharing my Word.’”

The team shared the gospel with many at the camp and surrounding area, even as officials kept a close eye on its work.

After leaving the camp, the team traveled to a larger town and prayer walked and shared the gospel in a nearby village, about a 30-minute walk away.

Several people welcomed the team into their homes and listened to Bible stories.

As the trip came to a close, the discouragement that sat heavy at the beginning of the week turned into an uplifting joy.

And team members recounted situation after situation that could only have happened because of the Lord’s hand.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Some names changed for security reasons.

To view a video related to this story, visit the video library.

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