In the wake of the world's deadliest known tsunami, generous donations flowed to Christian relief organizations worldwide. Throughout South Asia, relief teams began delivering aid even as they grieved alongside those they employed and supported.

World Vision broke a fundraising record, said Dean Owen, World Vision vice president for communications. Unsolicited donations (most of them made online) amounted to $1 million in the first 48 hours following the Sunday, December 26, catastrophe. He described the disaster has having "biblical proportions" and said that it may well require "the largest and most costly relief effort in known history." As of Wednesday afternoon, the regional death toll estimate exceeded 80,000.

Owen added that, in contrast to what United Nations humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland insinuated in a comment earlier this week about rich countries' "stingy" giving, "World Vision has known Americans to be very generous."

The relief groups see this generosity as one way Christians can give witness to their neighbors in the devastated parts of the world. "As some of you know, the churches in Sri Lanka have been severely persecuted in this predominantly-Buddhist (70 percent) country," wrote World Relief Asia regional director Charles Moon in an internal World Relief memo forwarded to CT. "Will this be a time for the churches to return hate with compassion-and capture the hearts of the people?"

They will have plenty of opportunities to do so.

Swept Away

As of December 29, about 100 children sponsored through World Vision and two of the relief organization's staff members in Sri Lanka were missing following the tsunami that ravaged the shores of the Indian Ocean, Owen said. "Entire communities washed away" in the Ampara and Batticaloa districts. Estimates for World Vision personnel and children in other countries were not immediately available.

Among the survivors was a World Vision staff driver in Sri Lanka, who on December 29 was recovering at a hospital after physical trauma and the mental anguish of seeing his wife, infant daughter, and mother "wash out into the ocean." He had been driving his car "pedal to the metal" in a frantic attempt to flee the waves of water chasing them. "Unfortunately, the door opened, the car flipped over, and the ocean took his family," Owen said.

Among the victims was a 9-year-old girl in India supported through Compassion International, said spokesman Giles Hudson. The girl was visiting with her grandparents in Ramapuran on India's eastern coast when she was swept away by the water. The body was then recovered and on December 27 Compassion helped with the funeral.

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Compassion's Colorado Springs office received 1,400 calls from sponsors inquiring about the well-being of the children they support, Hudson said. "If they had not been contacted, they should assume that their child is safe," he advised. "If not, we'll contact them."

"Three to four hours" following the disaster, some of the 5,000 to 8,000 World Vision's workers in the region had busied themselves helping the shocked survivors. "We started delivering the basics: blankets, clean water, food—be it cooked food or the dry, high-protein emergency food rations that don't taste very good but do the job of helping people stay alive for several days," Owen said.

Fortunately, World Vision was ready: it had stocked thousands of relief supplies throughout the region, such as tents that can be used by the displaced families as temporary dwellings. As of December 29, World Vision "had not yet run out" of them, but "if need be, we'll fly them from the warehouses in Europe and North America," he said.

The group has set a worldwide goal of raising $20 million, and Owen said he expected "that we'll exceed that amount."

"Besides the immediate needs in many places, the roads are gone, hospitals are gone, the infrastructure has to be rebuilt. It's going to take years and billions of dollars."

Among the hardest hit is the Chennai area in southern India, where Compassion supports five communities whose combined population is about 289,000 inhabitants, and where it sponsors more than 900 children, said Compassion spokeswoman Stephanie Lee.

As of December 29, the group received a report of one village in north Chennai where the organization supports 25 children. All their homes had been "wiped away," she said. Also in that region, "more than 25 fathers of Compassion-assisted children were lost at sea when the waves struck," according to a news release.

"Because these people live along the coast, their livelihood is fishing," Lee said, "they lost their livelihood.

"Their boats are damaged and they don't have home insurance like we do. Some of the children only have the clothes on their back."

World Relief's Charles Moon pointed out another challenge: "the increasing prominence of Indonesia as the hardest hit nation (death toll 27,000 compared with the next highest of Sri Lanka with 17,000 as of [Dec. 29] morning) and the one that will need by far the most relief and rehab assistance.

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"Clearly, the devastation in Indonesia and particularly in Banda Aceh on Sumatra is on a much higher scale than the other hard hit nations. It behooves us to be operational there and not just in those countries were it is the easiest to be active and where there is a multiplicity of other Christian NGOs."

Snapshots of Mercy

"We're asking people to pray for families of the victims because the trauma they're suffered likely will be lifelong, and God's extraordinary and immeasurable mercy will be needed to soothe the wounds that people have suffered," Owen said.

"We're seeing snapshots of God's extraordinary mercy already, for example those extended by World Vision staff in Asia, some of whom have taken sometimes between 50 and 100 people who lost their families or and homes."

On Dec. 29, none of Compassion's 68 staff members in India was unaccounted for, and some of them were going home to home to check on the families they support.

Also on Wednesday morning, World Relief disaster response director Mark Smith and India country representative Rabindran Shelley began their assessment in Tamil Nadu, India's southeastern coastal region, according to marketing and communications manager Chris Pettit.

Like many evangelical organizations, World Relief was partnering with other groups in the region. It was planning to collaborate with Habitat for Humanity in India to rebuild homes. In Sri Lanka, World Relief was working alongside the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL).

Along with many other relief groups, Compassion has set up a disaster relief fund (see websites and news stories below).

Agnieszka Tennant is associate editor for Christianity Today.

For additional breaking news coverage see these online articles:

Christian council of Sri Lanka responds
More than 11,00 dead in India
Bush reactions to 'stingy' comment
Minister's wife confirmed dead
Velankanni Pilgrims among the victims
Christian organizations reach out
Student thankful family survived
Saved by a Palm Tree

Here are links to a few of the many Protestant and evangelical groups helping victims of the tsunami in South Asia, and in most cases, setting up a designated account for this disaster:

Assemblies of God Relief
Baptist World Aid
Church World Service
Compassion International
Lutheran World Relief
Salvation Army
Samaritan's Purse
United Methodist
World Relief
World Vision