"Is today the last day?" the 10-year-old boy asked his mother. "Are we all going to die?"
Hindus and Buddhists as well as Christians throughout the city are asking similar questions, reports Rita Tozer*, a 28-year-old Christian worker whose Himalayan city is just 30 miles from the Sept. 18 quake's epicenter.
Tozer and her two preschool-aged sons were on a blanket on the floor eating popcorn and fresh vegetables when the quake hit at 6:10 p.m.
"I grabbed the boys and ran to the hallway," Tozer said. "Things were falling off the walls, the tables and the cabinets."
While Tozer's apartment building remained intact, smaller homes less than a mile away collapsed. A historic church in the city lost one of its spires.
"Most everyone is all right," Tozer said. "But there is significant loss of life and property damage in nearby villages."
As of Tuesday, the death toll climbed to 81 as helicopters airdropped emergency supplies to isolated villages, news agencies reported. Soldiers in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim cleared a path to the town of Mangan, about 10 miles from the epicenter. Other communities remained cut off from rescuers.
A team from the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., will arrive within the next few days. The team has been planning the trip -- originally designed for outreach -- for six months. Tozer contacted the church on Monday and asked them instead to provide disaster relief to the hardest-hit areas.
"The greatest needs are medical supplies and medical care," Tozer said. "A paramedic and a physical therapist were already part of the team. Others will begin digging out rubble and delivering medical supplies, food, blankets and other survival items."
A group of Oklahoma Baptists also plans to arrive later this year. Last year, the team adopted one of the Himalayan towns and anticipated returning this fall for follow-up.
As communities assess damage, recover victims and begin to rebuild, Indians are asking, "Why?" Tozer is grateful that both the Brook Hills and Oklahoma teams will be able to provide relief to the victims along with answers to their deeper questions.
"People are looking for meaning," Tozer said. "They tend to spiritualize things might see as only physical. They are open to spiritual conversations."
Among prayer request from the region:
-- For workers to gain access to areas most affected by the quake.
-- For workers to have opportunity to share God's love with those who are hurting.
-- For the team from Brook Hills as they travel to the quake area within the next several days.
-- For the team from Oklahoma as they prepare to follow-up on relief efforts with longer-term solutions.
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia.
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