China Update

I haven’t been able to speak to my dad since he arrived in China, but have been lucky enough to get fairly regular emails from him. The updates have been fascinating and heart breaking, and I thought I’d share this one, written by my dad on May 17:
Today’s English edition of the “China Daily” lists these figures in a front page text box:
22,069 confirmed dead, 168,669 injured, 4,432 aftershocks in Sichuan in the past four days, 21,125 pulled alive out of debris and 140,000 soldiers and armed police mobilized.
For those of you reading this update these numbers are sad statistics of a tragic earthquake happening somewhere on the other side of the world. For me, these numbers draw a picture of the stark reality awaiting me on the other side of my hotel room door.
Let me regress. On Monday morning at 6:30 I left Knoxville, Tennessee headed for Chengdu, China to begin a three month sabbatical. I had been preparing for this venture for almost a year, reading about Chinese customs, trying to learn bits of the language and preparing lesson plans to teach young pastors; but no amount of preparation could have prepared me for what I encountered when I arrived in Chengdu. The fear and grief written on Chinese faces delivered a message that transcended translation. Something terrible had happened and I was getting ready to sample its bitter taste.
Chengdu, capital city of the Sichuan province, is located about 50 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. Though approximately 1,000 Chengdu residents died as a result of the earthquake, much of this large city sustained only minimal damage. The area where I’m staying seems safe. The aftershocks catch your attention but, at this point, they seem pretty minimal.
But words describing the lack of structural damage don’t begin to tell the whole story. As I began to interact with Chengdu’s residents I realized structural damage was only the first phase of this earthquake’s devastation. The most severe devastation was not in crushed buildings but in crushed lives and shattered dreams.
Since Monday’s tremor, fear and grief have spun their pattern in the fabric of the Chengdu community. Everywhere you turn people are living in makeshift tents, afraid to go back inside their houses. Each aftershock only heightens the level of apprehension and each new event gives birth to rumors that produce new waves of panic.
At this time I have not personally gone into the most devastated areas, and rightly so. The Chinese people take pride in “caring for their own” and are conducting a well-coordinated relief effort without the intervention of unskilled foreigners like me. Since I cannot go into the crises areas I have tried to support the effort by helping to collect supplies for the victims.
On Wednesday morning, as we began the supply effort, the city’s water was temporarily cut off and it was rumored that the water supply might be out indefinitely. Immediately, the streets were filled with panicked buyers purchasing food and water at exorbitant prices. My friends and I became a part of that crowd, scouring the city by foot in search of food and water for victims. By early afternoon we had walked a couple of miles only showing minimal results for our effort. The water outage only lasted a couple of hours but, because of the rumors, the entire city was pitched into chaos.
Later that day another rumor sent Chengdu residents scrambling for their lives. According to some unknown source, mice in the outlying countryside were evacuating barns and buildings en mass. According to spin doctors, this strange rodent behavior could only signal one thing – a worse earthquake was on the horizon. Obviously, the rumor proved untrue.
Despite all the chaos, things are stable in Chengdu, but it’s a tenuous stability. I have no doubt the buildings will endure the shaking, but it’s the quaking souls of hurting people that gives me greatest concern.
Pray for those whose lives are changed forever and pray for my friends and me as we seek to be the presence of Christ to those who desperately need to feel his comfort and love.
P.S. Some of you have asked about making contributions to help in the relief effort. If you wish to do so you can send a check payable to First Baptist Church with a note designating it for China Earthquake Relief. The church’s address is 1610 Russell Ave., Jefferson City, TN 37760.