Chinese Christians help lead earthquake recovery

Life in the Sichuan province in China changed on May 12, 2008.

The Longmenshan fault buckled and ripped in two, reducing towns and villages to rubble and collapsing school buildings like accordions.

The Sichuan Wenchuan earthquake, named for its epicenter, was the strongest in China for nearly 50 years. In just two minutes, the disaster would leave 70,000 dead, 400,000 injured, 18,000 missing and millions of people without homes and livelihoods.

Within five hours, the Amity Foundation — one of the main partners in China of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries — had staff in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, to begin assessing damage in some of the worst affected counties. A day later, the United Methodist Committee on Relief issued an emergency appeal and dispatched $50,000 to Amity for relief work and rehabilitation efforts.

Another $10,000 was released to Amity for work with the children left parentless after the quake. An additional gift of $5,000 went to the Sichuan Christian Council for work with church communities, including the Sichuan Theological Seminary in Chengdu, which suffered structural damage.

A year later, the relief and rehabilitation efforts of the Amity Foundation have touched the lives of nearly 400,000 persons. Its projects have provided community grain-storage facilities, clean water and sanitation supply lines, materials to build homes and school equipment and rebuilt classrooms.

In another sign of recovery, Christians in Mianzhu, one of the hardest-hit counties, rejoiced at the construction of a new Protestant church to replace one damaged by the quake.  Church attendance is up six-fold, with a worshipping congregation of 1,000 each Sunday.

First months after 512

In China, the earthquake is commonly referred to as 512 (May 12), following the tradition to abbreviate important events after the date it occurred. The Amity Foundation initially focused on the immediate needs and sufferings of the survivors. It distributed polyurethane sheets for shelters; rice, noodles, and cooking oil; clean drinking water, baby food, and quilts.

Amity also sent a team of qualified psychologists and social workers to provide counseling and assess the social and psychological needs of traumatized persons in the villages of Mianzhu County, where it began concentrating its work. “Adults seemed the least psychologically equipped to deal with the disaster, as guilt feelings were strong,” said Dr. Theresa Carino of Amity’s Hong Kong, SAR, P.R. of China Office.

About 9,000 children died in the quake, which struck in the mid-afternoon when local schools were still in session. The Chinese government estimates that nearly 7,000 school buildings collapsed or were severely damaged.

The government’s overall reconstruction plans assigned wealthier Chinese provinces to assist the hardest-hit regions in Sichuan. Amity’s headquarters are in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, and Jiangsu was assigned to help Mianzhu County, where 30,000 lost their lives. It is there, specifically in Woyun village, that Amity has focused its rehabilitation work.

One year later

Amity’s humble office in Woyun village belies its commitment to reconstruction work, which will extend over the next several years. A study showed that 90 percent of the homes in Woyun had collapsed or were rendered unsafe for occupation. Together with the Hong Kong Institutes of Architects and Planners, Amity is assisting with the construction of quake-resistant homes using simple, affordable and innovative technology.

Villagers in Woyun also receive technical training in rebuilding their houses. Kwong Chun-Kin, a construction expert from Hong Kong, led the training and wrote a manual to help unskilled villagers understand new seismic safety standards issued by the central government.

Amity’s study also revealed that 95 percent of Woyun’s farmers lost grain storage facilities when their homes collapsed. Traditionally, farmers in Woyun grow corn, wheat, and rice. Most of the farm work is done by women, who use their hands because agricultural machinery is unavailable and inappropriate for the steep local hills.

With fields already planted, a whole season of grain was destined to perish without proper storage facilities. Amity met this need by providing 947 steel granaries. “No mice and no mold!” beamed one farmer about the benefits of this simple equipment, which can be moved easily throughout the community. Organic fertilizer was delivered to farmers who specialized in garlic production.

Amity also organized a team of specialist volunteers from Nanjing’s Ruihaibo Rehabilitation Hospital, who served at the People’s Hospital in Mianzhu County, helping to rehabilitate hundreds of people injured in the quake.

New church for Mianzhu

A temporary church in Mianzhu was dedicated in January. The event packed the space to overflowing, with people spilling out into the church’s courtyard. Few Christians in Mianzhu lost their lives in the 512 quake, but the historical Mianzhu Protestant Church, built in 1923, was damaged beyond repair.

Money was pledged for a temporary building. In the meantime, Mianzhu Christians worshipped under tarpaulin tents, braving torrential rain, sometimes having to keep an overnight vigil to protect the tarpaulin covers.

The congregation has grown from 180 members before the earthquake to nearly 1,000 worshippers every Sunday morning. Under the leadership of the Rev. Gu Yumei, 108 were baptized on Christmas eve.

When the earthquake hit, Gu was hundreds of miles away, attending graduate classes at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. For her, there was no question whether she would cut short her studies and return to her home area to be with the suffering.

As part of her ministry at Mianzhu, Gu also offers pastoral and psychological counseling to congregational members. With the help of trained volunteers, she manages a small medical clinic on the church’s grounds.

Donations to UMCOR and Amity’s relief efforts in China can be made to International Disaster Response, China Earthquake, UMCOR Advance #982450, athttp://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/work/emergencies/ongoing/international/.

*Allen is a missionary assigned as China Program Associate with the United Methodist China Program of the Board of Global Ministries. This report was written with information from the Amity Newsletter and periodic updates from the Amity Foundation.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or[email protected].

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