A Southern Baptists of Texas Convention medical team returned April 2 after 10 days of restoring contaminated water wells and treating the illnesses and injuries of Indonesian survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami.
More than three months after the giant tidal wave, a stench remains amid broken palm trees, stagnant rice paddies and leveled buildings, said SBTC men’s ministry consultant Bill Davenport, who led the eight-person team abroad. A half-million people there were homeless after the tsunami and the government is building multi-family, barracks-like structures to house the masses.
The team?two physicians, three nurses, one emergency medical technician and a security person?worked alongside Southern Baptist relief workers in the Aceh province of Sumatra, an Indonesian island hard hit by the tsunami. Of tsunami-related deaths, the toll in the Aceh province is thought to be above 200,000, the New York Times reported April 6.
Nearly everyone the team met lost family members in the tragedy, Davenport said.
“Aside from the medical work, we touched three wells out of a thousand that need to be made usable again. What impacted them, I think, is the realization that there are Christians who are good people. ?”
“Their concept of Americans, based on a lot of the B-movies they have seen, is women dressed as floozies, what movies and magazines project. And this is a very devout Muslim area. They think that all Americans are Christians. We tried to show by example that Christians are not that way.”
Out of respect for Muslim custom, the women on the team wore head coverings in the humid, 95-degree heat and the male team members showed sensitivity to cultural norms, such as Davenport walking hand-in-hand across the village with a man who was attempting to show Davenport that he considered him a friend.
Though calls to Muslim prayer were audible as the team worked alongside villagers in repairing the wells, pouring concrete and providing medical care, Davenport noted that the villagers’ participation seemed low.
A popular concept among villagers, Davenport said, is that God sent the tsunami to punish them for sins.
In coordination with other Southern Baptist relief workers, the team built relationships with several families, helping them purify three water wells that were contaminated by the tsunami, operating a medical clinic for villagers and fitting residents for eyeglasses?a hot item.
“They took to eyeglasses like kids take to candy,” said Davenport, who spent an hour before he left Texas with a Wal-Mart optician, learning to test eyesight using an optical letter card. The eyeglasses the team took with them were labeled with vision specifications.
Davenport said the villagers’ humble nature and perseverance inspired him. A young man in his early ’20s affectionately nicknamed “Six Fingers” for the extra digit on one hand and six toes on each foot, told of running from the tsunami carrying his infant nephew, his brother’s son, under his arm. The rushing waters swept the baby away; Six Fingers climbed atop a train car and escaped otherwise certain death.
His father, mother, grandfather and brother were among the family members who died.
“Losing his nephew, that troubles him more than anything else,” said Davenport, who worked alongside the man almost daily.
The SBTC team was also popular among the villagers for the ink pens with the words “Oh Tuhan tolonglah Kami”?meaning “Oh, Lord, help us”?printed on the casing.
They gave out about 500 of them, though they could not explicitly talk about Jesus as the Son of God.
Repeatedly, they would ask, “Why are you here?”
“We’d tell them, ‘Because God loves you and we love you.’ It would overwhelm them,” Davenport said.