In the aftermath of southern Asia's devastating tsunami, humanitarian aid sent by the Church arrived in the afflicted area as Church members worldwide dedicated their prayers and fast offering donations to help the literally millions of victims.
"When it comes to a major tragedy as we have all witnessed on the television, on the news and in newspapers, compassion knows no boundaries; it has no cultural boundaries, it has no religious boundaries," said Bishop Richard C. Edgley, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, Dec. 31, 2004, at a press conference at UPS Air Cargo Terminal in Salt Lake City. The press conference was held in conjunction with the loading of a cargo plane with relief supplies bound for southern Asia.
In a partnership effort with Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Church sent more than 70 tons of medical supplies, hygiene kits, clothing and shoes to Indonesia Jan. 1 to aid disaster victims. The chartered MD-11 cargo plane was loaded for a New Year's Day flight to Medan on the island of Sumatra in northern Indonesia. Islamic Relief Worldwide paid the shipping costs.
In addition to relief supplies from Salt Lake City, members in Asia assembled 17,000 hygiene kits and, at the request of the local government, the Church purchased 50,000 body bags from China. Two full cargo containers of clothing from the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City, six additional containers of first aid, medical supplies and relief items and a shipment of Atmit (porridge produced by the Church to help famine victims in Ethiopia and other famine-ravaged areas of the world) will also be sent to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
"We are finding through assessment that Atmit is needed immediately to help fight the malnutrition starting to manifest itself," said Craig Knight of Church Welfare Services emergency response. "This is going to those near starvation to help bring their system back so they can eat rice and a more typical diet."
Church members also responded to a statement from the First Presidency inviting them to "contribute most generously in fast offerings" Jan. 2 making it possible "for the Church to increase its aid to those whose suffering is so great."
The end result, Bishop Edgley said, is that at this time of great urgency, the Church "will be able to help alleviate the suffering."
The Church began the massive Latter-day Saint relief effort in the area after an earthquake of epic power struck deep beneath the Indian Ocean Dec. 26, unleashing 20-foot tidal waves that ravaged coasts across thousands of miles, killing at least 150,000 people, injuring more than 500,000, and leaving millions homeless.
All missionaries serving in southern Asian nations are safe and accounted for, according to Church Public Affairs. There are no reports of death or injury to local Church members.
Still, Bishop Edgley said, the Church responded to the disaster immediately, sending Church employees to the area as soon as possible. Bishop Edgley traveled to southern Asia Jan. 3.
"We are making assessments. We are already distributing funds. And we are trying to be there as quickly as we possibly can to alleviate the terrible, terrible suffering that goes with this tragedy."
The Church, Brother Knight explained, is sending only items from Salt Lake City that are not readily available in Asia.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, for example, Latter-day Saints set in motion a chain of service minutes after learning of the disaster.
Elder Subandriyo, an Area Authority Seventy from Indonesia, and Elder Tom Palmer, Welfare Services country director, immediately scheduled Church and governmental resources to mobilize aid to the victims.
Under the direction of President Dean C. Jensen, missionaries in the Jakarta Indonesia Mission assisted members in purchasing supplies and assembling 3,000 personal hygiene kits. Medical supplies, body bags, tents, tarps, clothing, food and water were prepared for shipping to the hard-hit Banda Aceh area of north Sumatra.
Five days after the earthquake, the first shipment of medical supplies provided by the Church, was flown from Jakarta to Aceh. The following day, Jan. 1, leaders and members in Indonesia joined other groups in loading seven trucks filled with Church-donated emergency supplies into two C130 cargo planes furnished by the United States Air Force.
B. Lynn Pascoe, Ambassador of the United States to Indonesia, coordinated the joint effort between the Indonesian and U.S. militaries and the private groups that provided relief supplies.
At a press conference just prior to loading the supplies in the planes in Indonesia, Ambassador Pascoe said, "We have many organizations around the world that are contributing, but the most striking to me I think has been how the individual American corporations and citizens are contributing. So much of the food and other items that are out on the trucks that you saw lined up today that will be going by C130s to Banda Aceh were contributed by either American companies or the Church of the Latter-day Saints."
Brother Knight said the Church will continue to send aid and provide other assistance into the future.
"We are looking more closely at real long-term recovery needs," he said.
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