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Posted February 25, 2005 - Tsunami story from YWAM workers

"Like Looking in an Aquarium"--Tsunami Miracle This story of God at work during the tsunami comes from some YWAM volunteers, Stew and Millie Lieberman...

It was 9 am the 26th of December…the church in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka was meeting as usual in the sunny beachside chapel. The congregation that consisted of all the boys from Samuel Boys Home and Herman Girls home and their caretakers were listening to the sermon being preached by Pastor Selvantha. The Pastor's child was fussy that morning and so his wife decided to take the 11 month old boy out in front of the chapel.

As she looked towards the sea she saw the huge dark gray tsunami wave approaching. At the same time, for some unknown reason someone got up out of their seat and closed the windows in the chapel. The next several minutes were a nightmare and a miracle for those of Batticaloa. As the pastor was preaching his wife ran back inside the church and yelled to the people "Run, a huge wave is coming". Pastor Selvantha yelled back "NO…stay in the church and pray". His wife did not listen to him and ran from the church in fear with their son in arms…six other people followed her. The wave came and washed her, the child and the six others away. To this day they have never been found.

The others who stayed in the church were saved by the Lord's protective hand that day. This was a real miracle as the wave hit and the church stood with none of the windows broken except for a small crack in one of the dorm rooms in an adjacent building. The water was so high that it covered the windows of the church and those inside watched, as if looking in an aquarium, as people and the wreckages of their homes were washed away. Had the tsunami hit at any other time all the girls at the Herman Girls Home would have perished because their buildings were totally destroyed by the tsunami.

The Lord gave Millie, Chaya and Roxanne the opportunity to see and hear of this miracle as they went to Sri Lanka to deliver humanitarian aid, money, and much love and hard work to those who suffered this disaster. They were touched so deeply!

The Christians in Sri Lanka are saying that the tsunami was an answer to their prayers to cleanse their land. They had been praying and fasting for many years for God to do something to save their people from the perversions and idolatry that were getting darker and darker. As a matter of fact…the very day the tsunami hit the radical Buddhists in the south planned to go into the churches and kill many people. In the north the terrorist group called the Tamil Tigers was planning on invading Dec 30th and beginning another civil war. The area where these two groups resided was totally washed away along with all the hedonistic places of worship. Luxury tourist hotels where child prostitution occurred…washed away! It is interesting that the Buddhists and Muslims saw this act as punishment for their way of living. They also believe this to be a cleansing act. Many Muslims were asking for Bibles from the Christians because it was the Christians who have been organizing all the relief efforts. Their government basically did nothing. Even the Sri Lankan army built up their own military bases before helping their people. Millie, Chaya and Roxanne represented the Israeli body of Messiah as well as many of you in supporting these relief efforts.


Dear brother and sister in Christ.

Greeting from YWAM Sri-Lanka. As you know Tsunami, tidal waves hit Sri-Lanka and around 40,000 people died and 5,000 missed. Most of houses and hotels in costal area got damaged completely or partially.

YWAM Sri-Lanka has worked for this during last January and this month. In last month, we went down to Matara where is southern part, 1088 died and strong Buddhist area over 95% of population. We have distributed relief goods as like rice, cloth, Dettol, horse and hoe for house cleaning, school items with the NGO called Good neighbors. And also did medical ministry for 3 weeks putting chemical to kill germs and fogging to kill Malaria and flies with the Good news Church where is unique one affected by Tsunami between Galle city and Matara city.

During the work for refugees in January, God gave burden to Brother Ranjula and John to do more relief work in February with all ywam staffs. Therefore, 17 staffs came to Batticoloa eastern part of Sri-Lanka and where 2,840 died and 952 missed. This district is less concern area by government because of tension between army and LTTE rebels. So, till today many people don¡¯t have food to eat, cloth to wear, shoes to go to school, less toilet for refugee camps, clean well to drink and Church to worship.

Now ywam Sri-Lanka was divided by 3 teams as like well cleaning team, children ministry and church supporting team and is doing mercy ministry till 28th of February 2005.

Our goal is doing really necessary works for Tsunami affected people and remained work after others have done relief work. And help the Churches affected by tidal waves and pastors missed their family member or church or residential house.

Well cleaning team with 8 staffs went to the remote village called Kaluvankani of Baticoloa no one visited after tidal waves, is pumping dirty water, putting Chlorine and re-pumping after one day. And while brothers are cleaning wells, sisters meet children and do games and singing and women counseling how to overcome from the Tsunami affection and sharing the Gospel. This team cleaned 35 wells twice nobody came, got 5 people for Christ through the relationship, and gave foodstuffs.

Children ministry team with 5staffs is visiting affected villages and refugee camps and playing with children who have big shock till today. Daily this team meets around 200 children and does ministry with giving necessary school items after program. Church support team consists of 5 leaders, Caleb,Sharon, Anura, Laminda and John. We are visiting and discussing how to help churches affected by Tsunami with pastors. And following the pastor's ideas to help village they are doing ministry. And giving bibles.

There are 14 Churches broken completely or partially and 6 pastors lost their family as like wife or children. Over 20 churches where are affected believers. Nowadays this team is helping the church where Pastor Isaiah works and 173 families affected among 293 families. There are 5 branches but 1 church was destroyed completely and 3 church partially.

Whole believers of 2 churches are now in refugee camps. And one pastor of this Church call Pakiyaraja working in Kayankini of Valachchai, missed 12 years son and 10years daughter and living in Wattavan refugee camp.

This church has big needs for the believers, specially for 173 families. Those families lost their houses, house holdings and jobs. Most of them are poor. They earned the money by selling fish and firewood with foot cycle using main transportation way. But now these 173 families do not have foot cycle and can not do their job. Doing job is big hope for affected people. So we are planning to buy 173 foot cycles and give hope for 173 families. 1 foot cycle will be cost USD 70. Therefore, please pray for this and join to this help for the church.

Please pray for ywam Sri-Lanka staffs and keep on touch with us.

15-Feb-2005 Our contacts: John + 94-77-3069601 Caleb + 94-77-7674132 Sharon + 94-77-3069602

January 13th

Friends, this may be a bit lengthy -- it could easily have been twice as long!!

It's Thursday afternoon, Jan 13th, here in Sri Lanka. Upon arrival I had some meetings with LEADS (Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Service), the group with which we are networking here, and then went on a full two-day trip down the west and southern coasts with people from other organizations. Came back exhausted...both, physically and emotionally. My mind is reeling to know what to to describe what we saw. The phrases "I've never seen anything like this in my life," or "...this is beyond comprehension..." by TV commentators and others who regularly visit crisis situations are commonly heard these days. Areas affected or destroyed by a tornado or hurricane are often several miles wide, sometimes more. Here, for two days and along 160 miles of coastline, we drove past scenes of devastation, desolation and despair -- and we didn't even get to the east coast beaches of the island where damage was worse.

The power, the energy and force behind those first waves that hit these shores seem immeasurable and terrifyingly mind-boggling. As a 63 year old man, six foot crowbar in hand, told us as he was breaking down the remains of a house, "Let this never again happen to anyone else." Having seen it, having witnessed the results of the 'carnage,' I concur with him. Burnt brick and cement houses literally flattened...large and small sections of walls fallen or leaning at all angles; tree limbs and clothes on the tops of roofs; train tracks twisted and turned, uprooted from their base; a telephone transmitting tower once several hundred feet tall, now a wreck of tangled steel. Pots and pans, plates and cups, dolls, toys, books, and picture albums, furniture and even an occasional clock pointing to ten minutes after ten were all spotted as we wondered silently through the wreckage.

In several places, particularly where the derailed train held over a thousand corpses, people covered their noses...the smell of death was still in the air. Stories people tell indicate that the water receded almost as fast as it had come in...again ripping out trees to which people clung, or sucking people and things out of houses, battering them against cars, buildings and trees, then carrying them out to sea. It tears at the heart to hear a grandmother tell of not being able to hold onto the children she was baby sitting, or a father who lost all of his family, telling you that he doesn't have the courage or fortitude to even go back to look at what is left of his homestead. Though many are still digging through rubble to find belongings or to clear what is left of the foundation, many still don't have the energy or will to begin. This morning as I was writing up a report and reliving the stories I'd heard, my emotional barrier broke down and I allowed tears to flood my eyes. I needed, for myself, to try to identify with that father. I've been steeling myself emotionally in the thick of all this grief and despair. While the media begin to focus on other attractions and these scenes fade from public view, I know that for me, at least, the stories, the sense of loss and anguish which spoke through the eyes of mothers and fathers, the eyes into which I gazed, will continue to remind me that things just won't be back to normal in a few months.

In fact, they will never be the same again. Having already had teams placed around the island in their normal and various development programs LEADS is doing an exemplary job distributing food and basic household items in areas most needy. Several of those team leaders were participants at the CHE Training of Trainers seminar. It was a joy to see them again. I reminded them how effectively the CHE strategy would fit into the process of restoration and rehabilitation.

We visited a community in which LEADS is providing basic assistance, and now, at the suggestion of the village leader, Mr. Sirisena, they have just begun a children's club. A small breakfast and other snacks are provided during the day. Two ladies teach songs and coordinate group games with them, as well as give opportunity for the children to express their frustration and anxiety. The children return "home" (how that definition so abruptly changed) to their parents in the evening. Mr. Sirisena, told us: "Our hearts were full of sorrow and desperation due to the sudden and great loss we experienced, but the starting of the children's club has helped our hearts to be more content. Our minds are soothed to know we are not alone." One mother remarked: "Our children don't understand what has happened. Their lives have been completely uprooted, things have inexplicably changed. They are scared, as are we all, that another wave will return. Even this morning at 5:30 a cry went out that the ocean was rising again. We all quickly got up from where we were sleeping and ran to higher ground. Fear is part of our lives. This club helps our children forget, if even for only a few hours, what has happened to all of us." Yet another mother shared this: "Just now we are helpless. Some of us have lost children and other family members. All our things were either swept away from the houses or ruined by the sea water. We are so thankful to LEADS for supplying the small items of food for the children during the day."

The group at LEADS is exhausted and plainly overworked. I could see in their expression the encouragement and comfort when I told them that we had sent out messages requesting prayer for them. They are grateful. Trauma counseling will be important. As friends visiting the Banda Aceh (Sumatra) devastation mentioned, "When everyone around you is grieving, in shock, and trying to figure out how to survive, who is there to comfort you?" That is exactly as it is here. All relief groups are totally under-equipped to provide counseling. Fortunately LEADS has already scheduled a counseling training next week.

While visiting the villages we asked if anyone would be willing to share with us about their experiences...

1) L.W. Sairantha, 26, a ceramics vendor, feels extremely fortunate that his immediate family is intact. His father, with only a head wound received while being swept out to sea, somehow managed to get back in with subsequent waves. In the southern town of Hambantota, people had gone to a fair or exhibition and huge outdoor market set up not far from the beach that Sunday morning, Dec. 26th. It was a big social event, and hundreds of people were there. LW had gone to a neighboring village the day before to visit friends and arrived home quite late so slept in. He was bathing when he heard a noise " many airplanes..." and the screams of desperate people. He rushed out quickly to see a wave of water approaching in the distance sweeping up people, furniture, even a bus, and tossing them about. He ran inside, grabbed the four children, and with his mother ran to a nearby house with a second story. The water receded very quickly, he told us, carrying back with it people and things. Venturing out only after he felt it was safe, he found that it was hard to even walk on the road, now full of bodies, trees and household goods. His was a fortunate family. They'd lost only an uncle who was crushed by cars in his mechanic shop. The daughter of their next door neighbor had also died.

2) Dilshan Mohammed, a young man of around 25, was home on a 3-month vacation from Saudi Arabia. "This is a most terrible vacation," he told me after I'd introduced myself. He spoke good English. I was standing alone looking at what was now a small lake created by the big wave washing inland where some 5,000 bodies had so far been recovered. Rescue crews were still at work. Dilshan and a friend had ridden up next to me on bicycles. We began talking. His house was in the distance on a rise, so had not been touched by the water. He too had been in his house when he heard the thunderous noise of the crashing wave, " hundreds of motors," was how he described it, and then screams. His larger family had lost 10 relatives. When he was finally able to venture out he found "...hundreds of bodies lying around. It was horrible. What could I do? I began to help carrying the corpses away." We stood side by side for a while, silent. He turned, thanked me for coming, then left with his friend.

3) S.M. Moulana, 45, also works overseas in Dubai. He had been anxious for his family upon hearing the news of the Tsunami, but hadn't been able to contact anyone by phone. It was on Dec. 28th that a friend telephoned telling him that his 35 year old wife, Shamirra, and 8 year old daughter, Katija, were missing. He got on the first plane out and came to what was left of his family, a 13 year old daughter who was on vacation from school with a friend in another town in the hills. His was a solid house and had withstood the wave's impact, but everything inside was ruined. He told us that another friend who had been at the fair had seen his wife come running out of the house with their daughter, had called to her, but had then lost track as the wave hit them. The bodies had been found not far away! "I don't know what to do. My daughter needs me, but I don't have work here."

4) Mohammed Akran, 50, went to town at 8:00 on Sunday morning to get his pants stitched. His wife, two grand-daughters, a son and daughter were all in the house. Another daughter and her husband had gone to the fair near the beach. He told us that a friend who survived informed him that when they heard that the water was rushing inland, they began running away for higher ground, but it caught up to them so fast that they were swept away. "When I heard about the ocean covering the land I wanted to go to my house. I was terribly worried about my family, but I couldn't go anywhere because of the water. When the water finally receded I hurried to find my family, but when I got to our yard, I found that my house was no longer standing. Everything was gone.

I began desperately looking for my family, but could find them no where." He went to his sister-in-law's house hoping that they had gone there, but no, no one there. "I went in tears to my sister's house, but again, no one had heard anything of them. I began to despair. There were so many bodies lying everywhere among the broken walls and pieces of furniture." His son-in-law's body was found that afternoon and taken to the mosque for burial. His son and daughter were found the next day. A friend had thought he recognized their bodies and informed him. Yes, it was them. The bodies of his wife and two grand-daughters were found later as well.

Obviously a broken and depressed man, he told us, "I don't have the heart to even go back to my house. I'm staying with my sister and come out only to get some of the supplies people are bringing. Otherwise I don't want to even leave her house. She is the only family I have left." I asked if he had other friends to whom he could share his feelings. "No, I can't talk to anyone about this, my heart is so heavy. I can't express it to anyone except my sister." How could we console and comfort him? Assuring him of our thoughts and prayers was all we could do. I watched him walk slowly, sorrowfully away. My heart, too, was heavy within me...aching with his pain. Each of the thousands upon thousands of families along the coast have heart-rending stories such as these.

I believe that God will use this disturbing point in history to speak to people and open doors to hear about Christ's love. Thank you for praying for God's people as they reach out in love by packing and distributing supplies or attempt to comfort their friends. Thanks for your prayers for me as I've been here. I leave tomorrow night to go home, but, my heart cries to stay....

Representing you... Love, G

PS. I was just told of a church on the east coast which lost 58 people when the wave crashed into their church even as they were meeting. The pastor, to whom all are now looking for comfort and counsel, lost his own wife and daughter as, for a moment, he reached out in an attempt to save other people.

Jan 5

Jim Westberry, one of our YWAM Water For Life teammembers will travel this weekend from Singapore to Sri Lanka with 20 water purification units. Pray for his travel and for funding for the units. MEDAIR REPORT
Medair is an excellent organisation that I can heartily recommend. This news was released today.... Medair begins water and sanitation interventions along the east coast of Sri Lanka

Here is an eye witness report from one of thier workers...

The Lewis Family's eye witness account of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka
Rosi Lewis

Tris Lewis is Medair's representative in Khartoum. He was spending his Christmas holiday by the beach in Sri Lanka with his wife Rosi and their two small children, Luke 1 and Genevieve 3. This is Rosi's eye witness account of the Tsunami tidal wave.

“We were staying at the ‘Dickwella Village Resort, in the south of Sri Lanka, 20kms east from Matara. Our hotel was set out on a peninsular and our beach house had floor to ceiling windows giving magnificent views over the Indian Ocean. We had just enjoyed a wonderful, tropical Christmas.”

“On Boxing day, Tris took Genevieve for an early morning swim in the pool and we all set off for breakfast at about 8.30am. I contemplated going for a swim myself but decided against it, and for some reason we put the children's shoes on. I think this was the first time we'd done this to go to a meal. The weather was calm and beautiful. The dining room was located on the second floor of a separate building at the tip of the peninsular. Breakfast was chaotic as usual with the children making a huge mess. The same familiar faces were there, French, Italians and a few British and there was a Sri Lankan family with 2 small children the same age as ours.”

“We were just finishing our breakfast and about to leave the restaurant when a waiter remarked that the sea was unusually high. A few people went out onto the balcony to have a look and we all ran to the windows. At first it was just a curious sight. As we watched we saw it continue to rise. The sea just got higher and higher until it overflowed onto the land, across the lawn of the hotel. I remember seeing one of the huge lights being knocked off a lamp-post just below us. I realised the sea was probably at the door of the ground floor rooms. Tris had started to leave the restaurant to try to save some clothes we'd left to dry, but in a second he was back saying “Our room's going to be trashed, our room's going to be trashed.” We realised this was serious.

The waiters started shouting for everyone to go up to the next level - the roof of the restaurant. We grabbed the kids and went upstairs, but the water was still rising. It was now reaching the level of the restaurant and the wooden balcony had been ripped off. We went to the top of the stairs, outside the owners' apartment, and watched the sea engulfing the hotel below us. It was terrifying. All we could think about was the children, how could we save them if the water got any higher: needless to say, we would have all drowned. I stopped looking and just prayed aloud, madly. Slowly the water started to recede.

People all around us were crying and screaming. We went back through the restaurant and out onto the front steps. I will never forget the sight. It wasn't possible to make out the swimming pool from the sea, it was all just a mass of muddy water. There were three waiters who had hitched up their sarongs and shimmied up palm trees, clinging on for their lives. They must have been 5 metres up. There was another lady swimming around the debris, above the pool – she looked as though she could have been going for a morning swim, but I think she had been swept out from her room on the ground floor.

We were terrified there would be another wave. When the water dropped further there was a mass exodus out of the hotel, although it was some distance through the grounds and up to the main road. We waded through the water and debris, taking it in turns carrying the children with the waiters, and met other guests on the way out who had been in their rooms at the time. The water level on the ground floor rooms had risen instantly and guests had little time to get out; in most cases they had to swim under the doorframe (some had to get the door open) and then cling onto whatever they could find to stop themselves being swept away.

When we got to the road we saw a car vertical against a tree and I saw some men carrying a dead woman. I had never seen a dead person before but I knew straight away she was dead. I felt sick with fear and my legs felt slow and clumsy. There was a sense of confusion and panic as we tried to work out the way to higher ground. Finally someone led us up a small track though the bushes, and we climbed as fast as we could with the children. We got to a clearing with a few houses and a big radio tower. The local villagers opened their homes to us all and served tea, bananas and curry to whoever wanted it, but it was obvious that fresh water supplies were going to be a problem.

Slowly more people arrived. Some chatted, some cried, some dressed their wounds. A Sri Lankan lady came up to me with her two children; one was a little boy Genevieve had played with on the beach the day before. She gestured to me that she had lost one of her children and I hugged her and cried with her. Stories like this became more common as the day wore on, as did the wails of grief that accompanied them.

Later that day we were fortunately airlifted to safety. The Swiss Ambassador, who was among the guests from the hotel, had arranged for a helicopter rescue and they had some space for those with small children. As far as we know, our fellow survivors from the hotel have not yet made it back to Colombo and it is now two days later.

It is the vulnerable who are most affected by disasters. The children were the ones who were hit worst. Those who couldn't swim didn't stand a chance. We are praising God for every second with our children now. For us, it was simply a matter of timing.”

forwarded by Ross Tooley forwarded me this e-mail from a pastor in Sri Lanka

----- Original Message -----
From: Dishan Wickramaratne
Sent: Wednesday, December 29, 2004 6:19 AM
Subject: Re: Please Pray
Hi Brother,

Thanks for you concern brother. I have already packed 9 trucks with emergency relief and sent them to the East and South. It cost about US$20,000, but I got it mainly from the local people who responded in kind (mostly) and some cash. I am also looking at the long term process, when all the hype ends and the news changes to something else. Then the politicians will be gone etc. So we are collecting whatever monies and building materials (roofing sheets, cement bags etc.) for the long haul. Let me know if you guys can partner with us for the rebuilding process.

If people want to help, the best way right now is to send cash, as it is needed now and we can buy most of the stuff here. We have also stretched ourselves beyond what we have and are buying things on credit.

As I write to you now the death toll has risen to over 18,000 in Sri Lanka alone.

We need a lot of prayer too,


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