Two hundred thousand and rising.… That was the official death count at the beginning of the month for cyclone-ravaged East Pakistan, victim of a disastrous killer-storm and tidal wave on the night of November 12.
Starvation, cholera, and typhus epidemics may push the total death toll to at least half a million, observers warned. “By all accounts, the worst tragedy in living memory, or perhaps in this century,”The only comparable disaster in modern recorded history was in 1887, when a flood of the Yellow River in Honan, China, took more than 900,000 lives. lamented Agha Shahi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations.
The catastrophe touched the sympathies of the world, and within hours church groups around the globe began responding with money, emergency relief supplies, medicines, and manpower to distribute the goods of mercy.
Certain geographical, political, and religious factors hampered relief efforts. Among obstacles were the virtual inaccessibility of locations where survivors cling to life along the battered sea coast, and the early lack of helicopters—the only means to take supplies to many areas. Dr. J. Harry Haines, executive secretary of the United Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief (UMCOR), cautioned also: “The churches in East Pakistan are very small and though doing all they can, care must be taken not to place them in the intolerable position of administering greater resources than they can responsibly handle.”
East Pakistan, divided from West Pakistan by India, contains 55,000 square miles, roughly the size of North Carolina. Its population of 77 million is overwhelmingly Muslim, with less than 1 per cent Christian and about 10 per cent Hindu. (The cyclone is said to have left more than 2.5 million persons homeless, most of them in the mud flats of the Ganges Delta.) Millions of Pakistani Muslims fasting in the holy month of Ramadan planned not to celebrate the religious festival December 2 because of the tragedy.
“The survivors can hardly survive,” a Pakistani newsman said after a tour of the area hit by 150-mile-an-hour winds that churned up twenty-foot waves. Radio Pakistan said not one person survived on thirteen islands near Chittagong; an early damage estimate was $105 million, plus 600,000 tons of food crops ruined. A volunteer worker returned with relief supplies from one area saying there was no one left to use them.
The response of the Christian world could be summed up in the words of Pope Paul, who stopped off in Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan, at the beginning of his trip to Manila. While encouraging relief efforts to the sticken nation, the pontiff urged those in devastated areas not to “turn to despair” but to “hope in a better tomorrow.”
Caritas International, coordinating relief agency of the Roman Catholic Church, announced at the Vatican that it had received more than $100,000 for disaster relief, and Pope Paul was told Italian bishops had given about $30,000 in a first installment of aid. Caritas spokesmen said American Catholic relief services planned to send 2,000 blankets, 50,000 doses of anti-typhoid vaccine, and large supplies of vitamins and water-purifying tablets.
Three and a half tons of medicines valued at $77,000 were sent to Pakistan by air freight from the warehouse of the Medical Assistance Programs in Carol Stream, Illinois. The World Relief Commission, arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, transmitted funds from evangelical Christians to storm survivors. The WRC also cooperated with relief efforts by the Assemblies of God.
United Methodists and others worked through Church World Service, shipping 62,400 doses of typhoid vaccine to Holy Family Hospital in Dacca. The hospital is operated by the Roman Catholic Medical Mission Sisters, who are related to CWS.
By the beginning of the month, at least three Baptist groups had sent relief funds: the Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board sent $5,000, the British Baptist Missionary Society dispatched $1,200, and the Baptist World Alliance forwarded $2,000. There are about 22,000 Baptists in both East and West Pakistan.
A Night Of Terror
Five days after the devastating cyclone ripped through East Pakistan last month, the Reverend Phil Parshall, a missionary with the International Christian Fellowship, an Asian mission society, filed this eyewitness report forCHRISTIANITY TODAYfrom Ramna, Dacca, East Pakistan’s capital:
As the winds increased and the tidal wave swept over the small islands off the southern coast of East Pakistan on the tragic night of November 12, the people had no place to flee for refuge.
One story of miraculous rescue was printed on the front page of a Pakistani newspaper. A teen-age girl living on one of these islands was able to stay afloat by holding fast to the tail of a swimming cow. A young college student from a neighboring island held tenaciously to a log through the fury of the storm. By next day the water had receded enough that the boy could stand in waist-deep water.
In the distance he saw the girl, and he motioned for her to come. She called back that she couldn’t because she had lost all her clothes in the storm. He threw her his shirt and she joined him. Together they caught two coconuts bobbing nearby—their only food.
As darkness fell the tide began to rise, and a table floated by. They grabbed it and clung to it through the night. Two days later, after they had given up all hope, a ship sighted them and took them aboard. At that time they were ten miles from land!
Another incident on the night of the cyclone took place in the heavily Christian town of Barisal. During the height of the storm three thieves approached the Church of England (Oxford) compound and overpowered the watchman, called the sisters together, and robbed them of personal belongings and $1,000 from a safe.
Two of the robbers took Sister Joan to the house of 66-year-old Father Macbeth. Disregarding the sister’s warning, Macbeth fought the thieves, and in the struggle a knife was thrust into his heart. He collapsed in a pool of blood, and Sister Joan fainted on the verandah. The thieves escaped with their loot into the stormy night. Macbeth had been in East Pakistan since 1933 and was greatly respected by his peers and Pakistani co-laborers. He was buried the next night in a simple service in the Christian graveyard.…
Water here is thoroughly contaminated, crops are a complete loss, homes have been obliterated, and through the still night air comes the hysterical weeping of the few unexplainably left behind—lone survivors of families that six days ago contained eight or ten poor, yet contented Bengalis.
Relief efforts are under way, but.… Many in America will turn on the television, view the pictures of the dead in East Pakistan, and say, “Oh, how horrible”—and turn the dial to the latest western or sex-saturated comedy. Some will pick up the newspaper, read reports of 200,000 killed in the cyclone, and say, “Oh, what a terrible catastrophe”—and quickly turn to the comic page.
But to the missionary in East Pakistan—well, I guess we’ll never quite be the same. You see, 99 per cent of these people were without Christ. Somehow it just seems to matter a bit more to us.
Churches in Germany sent 5,000 blankets and 500 tents, and Scandinavian Christians sent a plane from Oslo with ten tons of dried fish, four tons of blankets, and one and a half tons of antibiotics. Cash pledges came from churches in India, Holland, Sweden, and Japan. At the request of the refugee arm of the World Council of Churches, material aid was channeled through the East Pakistan Red Cross.
Canadian churches pledged more than $72,000, and Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Services in Washington, D C., reported that an initial cash gift of $20,000 had been approved. The Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pennsylvania, responded through the East Pakistan Christian Council.
The Salvation Army rallied to assist the cyclone victims; the four territories in the United States allocated an initial $25,000 for relief, and Salvation Army personnel in West Pakistan sent several teams, including nurses, to the stricken area.
The Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York sent twenty-two tons of medical supplies, and Lutheran World Relief airlifted 8,000 blankets to hapless victims in the calamity-ravaged land.
Black Churchmen: Dealing For Dollars
It’s time for the National Committee of Black Churchmen to catch up with its rhetoric: more action, less talk.
That was the platform advice from black educator Vincent Harding at last month’s annual NCBC meeting in Atlanta. Result: a meeting remarkably subdued in tone compared to last year’s, when the NCBC vowed to take over the National Council of Churches or, failing that, to “preside at its funeral” (see December 5, 1969, issue, page 33).
Neither overthrow nor funeral became reality. But the NCC’s life was extended temporarily, explained NCBC executive director Metz Rollins, only because it “did bend a bit … toward us.” A newly appointed strategy committee will study how best to “deal” with the NCC and predominantly white churches in the future. Meanwhile, the NCBC will tread lightly; every denominational black caucus reported it got more money from headquarters than ever before. That is why, hinted a spokesman, Black Manifesto architect James Forman caused few ripples at the Atlanta meeting when he resurrected the issue of reparations.
There was no shortage of rhetoric. Rollins charged that evangelist Billy Graham is “a dangerous force” because he “epitomizes the white establishment church which increasingly oppresses blacks” and because “he puts country above people and justice.” Rollins also said that the black church is becoming more revolutionary and must now “leave its options open” to possible violence.
Detroit pastor Albert Cleage, Jr., advocate of the “black Christ” concept, saw no future for whites and blacks worshiping in the same church. New NCBC president John D. Bright, African Methodist Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia, expressed support of the Black Panther Party and other “black liberation” groups, and urged the NCBC to work closely with black caucuses in police departments.
Militant Charles Koen—a Cleage disciple—arrived from Cairo, Illinois, with a report on his United Front boycott campaign against white-owned businesses in that racially divided town. Blacks recently surrounded the police station and sprayed it with gunfire. Koen claimed that white vigilantes had shot at blacks first—on 142 nights of the last twenty months.
The 500 NCBC registrants then emptied their pockets of $2,700 for Koen and pledged an additional amount. (In an interview, Cairo American Baptist minister Larry Potts charged bitterly that the churchmen were subsidizing “criminality.”)
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
A suit filed in a Kentucky Circuit Court seeks to block a January 1 merger between Louisville Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (Southern) and Louisville Presbytery of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.
The First Presbyterian Church of Louisville and one of its elders who is chairman of the local Concerned Presbyterians group (see editorial, page 27) want their Southern church presbytery to be restrained from the merger until next summer, when their denomination’s General Assembly can rule in the dispute. They claim among other things that local church property rights are at stake.
If the merger takes place, all Southern and United Presbyterians in Kentucky will belong to both denominations. Two other proposed union presbyteries in the state were approved earlier without difficulty.
Church Of North India
A new Church of North India was born last month. It embraces six Protestant denominations with more than 500,000 members. The service of unification was held on the grounds of All Saints Cathedral in Nagpur, with more than 3,000 worshipers present.
The merger follows by twenty-three years the union that brought together Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists into the Church of South India, which has been hailed as a pioneering ecumenical venture.
The Church of North India includes Anglicans, Reformed, Baptists, (Dunker) Brethren, Disciples, and British Methodists. The new church would have been more than twice as large if U. S.-related Methodists had joined. They held a special conference earlier this year that voted against the idea. The legality of the move is being contested.
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