Report from Meashed Liyanage, BCM Sri Lanka Director
Sri Lanka’s worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami started unexpectedly when Tropical Storm Roanu arrived May 15-16, 2016, weeks ahead of the normal monsoon season. Within 48 hours, the heaviest rains in a quarter-century had dumped over 300 millimeters (approximately one foot) into already overflowing rivers. Resulting landslides have left entire villages buried in mud. With rains continuing, hundreds of thousands have driven from their homes. The heaviest struck has been Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, where BCM’s country headquarters is located, where more than 200,000 have been evacuated from flood zones.
“It was a very scary situation,” writes BCM Sri Lanka director Meashed Liyanage, “as we could visibly see the rising water levels washing away houses and burying buildings. Due to landslides, many hundreds died while they were asleep in their beds. Many children were among the casualties.”
BCM Sri Lanka has faced disaster before. Along with a thirty-year civil war, the 2004 tsunami left more than 30,000 dead. BCM Sri Lanka was actively involved in assisting thousands with relief aid and helping them rebuild their lives through BCM’s network of local churches. With this experience, BCM Sri Lanka immediately began organizing relief efforts, putting together a dozen teams made up of volunteers from BCM churches, many of them young people. With aid coming from BCM’s global family, volunteers have worked around the clock, packaging up food, dry clothing, powdered milk, and other necessities for distribution.
Meashed describes, “We were able to go with our volunteer teams to help assist with evacuations and supply essential aid food and warm clothing. It’s a blessing to have a wonderful cooperative youth group who is passionate to help, and our teams were deployed to many areas. It wasn’t an easy task as the roads were damaged and rain was continually pouring. We wanted to go places where no one else had yet gone. We met personally so many who had been left out when it came to getting help. We made it a point not to just drop off goods, but to go and visit them one by one at their homes.”
Which has not been easy. Floodwaters and landslides have not been the only risks. Contamination from sewage overflow and rotting matter is making disease an even greater threat than the original floods. Beyond those trapped by floods, many others have refused evacuation, remaining perched on roofs or upper stories to protect any remaining possessions from looters. Some areas have been classified as too dangerous for civilians to enter. But BCM teams were able to work in conjunction with military rescue units to ferry aid in to trapped residents.
Meashed notes the hard work and enthusiasm of their younger volunteers in particular: “Our youth, who have been actively involved, were so encouraged that they were able to take part in rescue and helping with aid to many hundreds of people. Some of them braved deep waters, taking relief aid. As I witnessed their commitment and passion, I too was much encouraged.”
Several BCM church buildings have been damaged, including Pussellawa, Yatiyantota & Badulla. In Pusselawa, a regional hub for BCM outreach (see BCM World, Issue #1, 2015), a landslide under the foundation has left a crack running down the middle of the church. Homes of many church members have been affected as well. Meashed shares of one such family:
“There was one place I went with Dad [Rev. Susiri Liyanage, BCM Asia director]. This whole family comes to church regularly. The father was staying close, keeping an eye on things that had gone underwater to stop any one looting. When he saw us, his eyes filled with tears. He said he didn’t expect us to be there. Trust me, no one wants to walk in dirty water with sewer all over the place! But we wanted to be there with our people. This man was so happy. His house was filled with water to my waist. Everything was floating. But we saw a bright light in his face. He felt strong because he knew he is not alone. We prayed and encouraged him, then gave him some aid to pull through the next few days. We went back later when the water had receded to bring dry rations, clothing, and items for the damaged house. This is just one short story out of many hundreds we could tell.”
Rescue efforts are far from over. With monsoon season just beginning, more floods and landslides are expected. Urgent ongoing needs include medical supplies and attention for those affected by contaminated water and flood-borne diseases. Shelter is needed for those who have lost homes as well as textbooks and other supplies so students can return to school [April-July is 2nd of 3 terms in Sri Lankan school calendar].
“This was a wonderful opportunity to show the love of Christ to many in desperate need,” Meashed Liyanage expresses on behalf of the BCM Sri Lanka team. “We want to thank everyone who has donated so far. And those who are still donating for our second phase to help rebuild. Many have lost their entire life investments. It is always the poor and vulnerable who suffer the most, and our commitment and work has been among these groups. I believe it is part of our responsibility to bring light to their lives with whatever help and encouragement we can offer. Together I trust there is much that can be achieved.”
BCM Sri Lanka is continuing to help displaced people by providing, among other things, powdered milk and meal packets for children staying in shelters. Any aid that is offered will be used entirely to help the displaced people of Sri Lanka. Volunteers from churches are working to distribute personally the food and essentials. If in addition to praying for our Sri Lanka team, you would like to participate in this emergency response, donations can be made here.
Originally Published in BCM World June 2016