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The universal language of relief needs no words. Clean water, high-protein food, cooking utensils, cups, water bottles, blankets, tents, mosquito nets to protect from the spread of cholera and malaria, and even feminine hygiene products—all are tangible phrases in the tongue understood by the victims of the disaster that tore into South Asia.

Several hours after the world's deadliest tsunami on record hit the shores of the Indian Ocean, evangelicalism's first billion-dollar corporation, World Vision—which had between 3,000 and 4,000 staff members in the countries affected—began speaking this language, handing out food and aid packages.

At a World Vision distribution center in a Roman Catholic church on the southern outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, a mother of a 6-year-old girl and a baby daughter showed her gratitude to Steve Matthews, World Vision's emergency-response communications manager. "She thanked us for the sleeping mats, pillows, and hygiene products," he recalls. "And then she grabbed hold of my wrist and said, 'I really appreciate what you have done for me and for our community, but I hope that you will reach out to other people in Asia because I haven't lost any of my children, and I know that many have lost and grieve for their children.' "

Sitting in his hotel room in Colombo, and speaking to Christianity Today by phone on January 4, Matthews said everything reeked of death. "There's a smell of death that gets inside of you, and you can't escape it." He'd just witnessed volunteers, among them World Vision workers, working the field of dead bodies in Galle in the south of the country, "a historic port city famous for its cricket field." The volunteers were helping ensure the identification of bodies ...

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First Waves of Relief
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In the Magazine

February 2005

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