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Tsunami hits home for Iowa church leader from Sri Lanka

 


Tsunami hits home for Iowa church leader from Sri Lanka

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The Rev. Wesley S.K. Daniel
Jan. 18, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Linda Green*

The passage of each day leaves the Rev. Wesley S.K. Daniel more concerned about missing family members in Sri Lanka, where the Dec. 26 tsunami killed thousands of people and wiped out churches that Daniel’s father had started.

"As the days keep going by, we are getting less hopeful that we will hear from our missing family members," said Daniel, Des Moines (Iowa) District superintendent for the United Methodist Church.

A native of Sri Lanka, he has been in the United States for 30 years. More than 60 members of his father’s family live in and around Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, and along the coastal regions where the tsunami demolished homes and livelihoods.

The Daniel family in Iowa — including Daniel’s father, the Rev. Christopher Daniel, a retired United Methodist minister — recently heard from relatives living on the outskirts of Colombo. The area did not experience the tsunami waves but was affected by strong winds. The family members were scattered and "to date, we have heard from some and have yet to hear from others," Daniel said.

"We are grateful to God to hear from those who are safe and that God spared their lives," although they lost everything they owned and are living in refugee camps and centers, he said.

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Photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT International

Damage from the tsunami is evident in this cemetery in Point Pedro, Sri Lanka.
"We are doing all that we can to help persons in both India and Sri Lanka," Daniel said.

He and his father worked side by side to begin faith communities in southern India and southwestern Sri Lanka.

"My father started several churches in Sri Lanka and India several years ago, and a few of these churches have literally been washed into the sea," Daniel said. "Many of these church families have perished. We have lost many of our friends, and the people who were members of our churches are no more. This has literally hit close to home."

The Rev. Christopher Daniel has been a longtime supporter of his homeland. In addition to starting churches and fellowships, he worked with Tamil settlements in southern India and Sri Lanka for decades producing wells, housing, schools, churches, medical clinics and orphanages. A Sri Lankan orphanage, built away from the coast by Daniel’s nonprofit Calvary Evangelical Mission, escaped the tsunami.

"It seems providential that they built the orphanage last summer," Wesley Daniel said. "It will go beyond its capacity, since the tsunami left so many children orphaned and displaced." News reports indicate that the tsunami left nearly 50,000 children in the affected region orphaned. Concerns about child trafficking have increased since so many children were left homeless.

Daniel called the disaster "mind boggling" and said he cannot "comprehend the enormity of it. Not only has this affected my own family but thousands in Sri Lanka." Estimates of the death toll in the island nation range from 31,000 to more than 38,000.

"My family’s hearts are shattered by what we are seeing" in news broadcasts from Sri Lanka, he said. A CNN report showing a bulldozer dumping bodies into a mass grave "will haunt me for the rest of my life," he said.

"The images remind me of how brutal this tragedy was in Sri Lanka," he said.

Daniel encourages donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for disaster response to all affected areas. The Daniel family, through Calvary Evangelical Mission, also established the Sri Lanka/India Disaster Relief Fund to provide direct assistance to those two countries.  

The Calvary Evangelical Mission is planning a two-week February trip to Sri Lanka to assess needs and help survivors.

"I am praying and thinking about the possibility of leading a delegation from Iowa to Sri Lanka and India some time in the near future," Daniel said. "I see the Iowa Conference on the cutting edge of doing something like this as soon as possible." The conference is the United Methodist Church’s regional unit in Iowa.

Donations to UMCOR’s "South Asia Emergency" relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance #274305 and "South Asia Emergency." Online donations can be made at www.methodistrelief.org. Those making credit-card donations can call (800) 554-8583. One hundred percent of the money donated to "South Asia Emergency" goes to that relief effort.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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