In response to a First Presidency request, our ward is joining many LDS congregations in fasting for the welfare of the tsunami victims and in encouraging extra fast offering donations to provide help for the many people afflicted by the disaster. The scope of the disaster is beyond imagination in some areas.
The tsunami affected a few people in my circle of LDS people here in the Midwest. The brother of one of our members was on Phuket Island, Thailand (they live in Singapore) with his family, relaxing on the beach, when the tsunami struck. All the people were amazed to first see the ocean retreat – so much that it was about ten times as much as what occurs from daily tides. Hundreds of curious people walked out onto the beach, observing marine life that had been left stranded by the receding waters. People grabbed buckets and went out to pick up fish that had been left behind. (Tip: if you ever see the ocean suddenly recede, RUN for high ground!) No one seemed worried by the strange drop in the water level, including several people on jet skis. Then the brother looked up and saw a wave of water in the distance. He grabbed his kids and ran, and got his wife out of the beachfront hotel nearby, and they all ran for high ground, yelling to other people to do the same. I’m sure many of those who had been at the beach with them are now dead. He and his family ended up on the rough of a building, safe.
After the wave swept over everything and the waters began to flow back toward the sea, he decided to risk a trip back to the hotel to retrieve a bag that had all their passports and other needed items. Wading through high flowing water was very dangerous – broken glass, nails, and other hazards were everywhere, and he would need stitches later, but he got the critical items and made it back to the roof of the building. An old man was up there with his family, holding their baby. Suddenly the roof gave way and the old man and the baby fell through. The man was only lightly injured, and the baby was fine. Then another child fell through the roof. But they were all basically safe.
They did need to go to the hospital to treat some of their injuries, and there they felt guilty receiving care because they could see numerous people who were terribly injured or dead, including rooms filled with blood and bodies. They called a friend in Singapore using their cell phone and were able to arrange for flights to get home. Very lucky!
We are grateful for his survival, but they were among the luckiest. So many people were killed, so many more were left homeless or impoverished. How great the need for the people of the world to reach out and help these victims. And I think the best way is through trusted, proven charities – like the LDS fast offering or humanitarian aid programs – that will get help directly to those who need it.
I am less optimistic about foreign aid programs, like the $350 million that President Bush has pledged. I’m sure it will do much good, but many times our Federal aid monies – taken from citizens by force rather than giving as an expression of charity – end up in the hands of foreign governments and corrupt officials rather than helping those the money was intended for. Sort of like the Iraqi oil-for-food program or the $20 billion dollar bailout of Mexico: little of that money went to Mexico, and essentially nothing went to help the average Mexican citizen, but a lot went to bankers on Wall Street. (I apologize for being cynical: feel free to max some extra tax donations, if you’re comfortable with that.) I think that LDS humanitarian aid and many other private organizations can be trusted to actually help people who need it. Give generously!