At the end of long journey through tsunami-devastated southern Asia, Bishop Richard C. Edgley said the Church is committed to not only meeting the immediate needs of those who suffer, but also helping to provide for the longer-term needs of the hardest-hit countries.
Seeing the destruction was a "most sobering experience," said Bishop Edgley, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, who returned from southern Asia Jan. 10 after leading a team sent to assess the Church's humanitarian response to the Dec. 26 disaster.
The Church began a massive Latter-day Saint relief effort in the area immediately after an earthquake of epic power struck deep beneath the Indian Ocean, unleashing 20-foot tidal waves that ravaged coasts across thousands of miles, killing at least 160,000 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 to local Church members; two members vacationing in the area from Sweden received minor injuries. (Please see article on page 7.)
"When you go there and see the devastation, it is hard to imagine anything that could be worse than what had happened," said Bishop Edgley, recounting the sobering site of seeing miles of destruction, smelling the stench of decaying bodies and watching family members search in vain for lost loved ones. One man he met, for example, lost 60 immediate and extended family members.
The Church's response to the disaster, he said, was "immediate and appropriate." In addition, he said, many nations and organizations are providing relief.
"Country after country is stepping forward in a significant way to provide humanitarian assistance," he said. "It has brought men of goodwill of all nationalities, of all religious backgrounds, of all cultural backgrounds together to relieve suffering."
Bishop Edgley stated, "the response will probably be the most significant humanitarian effort the Church has ever been involved in."
Much of that effort is made possible, he explained, through the generous contributions of Church members worldwide. The First Presidency invited members 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 response, said Bishop Edgley, was a "significant outpouring, beyond what we expected." In addition to fast offerings, "small and large" donations have been given to the Church's humanitarian aid fund, he said.
Bishop Edgley said it has been gratifying to see how Church members have responded to the disaster.
"We were complimented as a Church for being able to do what we do," Bishop Edgley said of his trip through southern Asia. "I made a point to say, 'It is not the Church, it is the millions of members who contribute generously. All the Church is doing is taking these sacred resources and trying to utilize them as best we can.' "
One of the concerns of the assessment team, said Bishop Edgley, is what will happen to the victims when the organizations providing emergency response finish their work and go home, leaving locals "with no homes and no lives."
"Our strategy is to assist with the immediate needs, buying locally for the most part, and then work out a plan for the long-term months, maybe years where we can help rebuild the structures of these devastated countries," he said.
Bishop Edgley said the Church will continue to evaluate how it can best help to provide long-term assistance: possibly providing clean water, including wells; assisting with orphanages; providing medical supplies and assistance; and helping in other ways that "will become apparent through ongoing evaluation."
"Our objective will be to match the Church's resources and capabilities with the most demanding needs of the people in the devastated areas," he said.
Garry Flake, director of Church Emergency Response, said Church leaders directing the response with "urgency, interest and inspiration" have been wise to consider that part of Latter-day Saint resources can go to "rebuilding things of lasting value."
The destruction, he told the Church News in a telephone interview from Hong Kong Jan. 11, is "beyond description," something of "biblical proportion."
In all his years of representing the Church following natural disasters, Brother Flake said he has "never seen destruction as extensive and as massive as this has been."
"We are going into areas where everything has been obliterated," he said.
E-mail to: [email protected]