Last January, she stood on her second-floor balcony, pointed to foundations where homes once stood and counted off the number of people who died when a vicious tsunami wave swallowed her village.
(Editor’s note: On Dec. 26, 2004, a massive
earthquake in the Indian Ocean spawned one of the most destructive
tsunamis in recorded history. It swept away thousands of lives and left
millions of people homeless. One year later, Southern Baptists continue
to aid and share God’s love with survivors in South Asia.)
Last January, she stood on her second-floor balcony,
pointed to foundations where homes once stood and counted off the
number of people who died when a vicious tsunami wave swallowed her
“At that house, two women died,” she recalled. “At that one, a man died. At that house, one woman died.”
Then Jenat*, a 33-year-old mother of two, went to
the only thing remaining in her home – an altar to Buddha – and gave
him glory for saving those who lived.
“I am Buddhist, and I am very happy because we saved a lot of people,” she said. “We were praying to Buddha.”
That was her response to the tsunami in 2004.
Today, Jenat is a vibrant follower of Jesus Christ who understands that He alone has the power to save.
“At that time, I thought that Buddha saved us,”
Jenat recounted days before the anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004,
tsunami. “You know I believed in Buddha, and I would have died for that
at one point.
“Now I only believe God,” she continued. “I am a changed Jenat, a new Jenat.
“Salvation came to my house,” she noted. “That’s
why. I didn’t think I would change like this, but that is the power of
In late November 2004, Jenat could wait no longer.
Even though the sea was rough, she stepped into the ocean and followed
Jesus in baptism.
She was not the first tsunami survivor to do so, nor
will she be the last. A few days after Jenat’s baptism, six more new
believers were baptized. In all, more than 40 men and women have been
baptized, said Southern Baptist worker Liam Metsker.*
“Getting to see all those … baptized in the first
group was another surreal moment,” Southern Baptist worker Jada Lynn*
said. “I’m sitting here in Sri Lanka, and there are nationals being
baptized in the Indian Ocean. It was pretty much tops to actually get
to experience that.”
Since Metsker baptized that first small group, the Sri Lankan believers have been baptizing others.
“They feel like they own baptism,” Metsker said. “They feel like they own the new groups” of believers.
Groups of people who desired to know more about Jesus began forming in May 2005.
Some of them soon dissolved, while others thrived. A few of the groups are on their way to becoming churches.
However, the decisions to follow Christ did not come
quickly or easily for the Sri Lankans. Most are the fruit of
relationships developed shortly after the tsunami – and sometimes of
relationships that existed with other Christians even before the
“When I first met Jenat (in August 2005), she was
not even interested in Jesus,” Nikki Edenfield* said. “Then one day she
told me that some friends from Holland had sent her a gift and she was
“It was a Bible in Sinhala,” she continued. “Now she
gets so excited to go and share. She’s bringing people into her home
for Bible study and leading people to Christ on her own and teaching
her boys how to pray before they eat.
“Jenat told me she loved (how) nobody came in here
and forced people to take Jesus,” she explained. “She said, ‘If I can
go and help you help others and translate for you, then I can share
with them that we are doing this because God loves them. That will give
me an inroad to share Jesus with them.’
“Our language only goes so far, but she’ll be able to go in and really share with them.”
Southern Baptist worker Riley Delk* said meeting the
physical needs of tsunami survivors has led to opportunities to meet
their spiritual needs as well.
With the help of volunteers, Southern Baptists have
reclaimed wells, built both temporary and permanent homes, provided
mattresses and mosquito nets, repaired and painted damaged houses,
rebuilt chicken coops and fishing boats – and simply listened to the
survivors tell their stories.
A dollar may seem like an insignificant amount to
give, Delk said. Those spending five minutes in prayer may not feel
like they are doing much. Two weeks may seem like only a short time to
serve. Yet, each sacrifice, each contribution – no matter how small –
is making a difference in the lives of tsunami survivors throughout
“Here I am distributing money that came from dimes
and nickels,” Delk said. “Every time I go to build a foundation, I tell
them where the money came from.”
Southern Baptists have contributed nearly $17 million to tsunami relief.
Countless people have prayed.
Thousands of Southern Baptists have given their time
to volunteer in tsunami relief throughout Asia, including about 180
volunteers in Sri Lanka.
Volunteers also have served in India and other areas
of South Asia where the tsunami devastated coastal areas.
But more Southern Baptist volunteers are needed in Sri Lanka and in most tsunami areas in 2006.
Many Sri Lankans still are without homes. Some live
in wooden shacks while others remain in leaky tents even as the first
anniversary of the tsunami comes and goes.
New believers in Sri Lanka testify that a variety of
wants or needs first piqued their interest in Jesus. Nearly all of them
interacted in some capacity with Southern Baptist workers or volunteers.
For Jenat, prayer finally drew her to listen to and
receive Jesus – the prayers of Southern Baptist workers and others who
prayed on her behalf.
Before Southern Baptists arrived in her village,
Jenat faced many troubles in her marriage and spent much of her money
“I had a good feeling when you prayed for me and you
shared with me my problems,” she said. “When I prayed as they told me,
it was wonderful. When I prayed, it changed a lot in my life. I cannot
Now Jenat is gaining a reputation as a godly woman
of prayer, and women seeking a hope like hers are coming to her to ask
for prayer and counsel.
“Every day, somebody comes to me and asks, ‘How do I
follow Jesus?’” Jenat said. “I think they can see how my life has
“I am like a messenger for this village,” she
continued. “One lady, a first member of the (Buddhist) temple, she
laughed at me, but now she wants a Bible.” (BP)
*Names changed for security reasons.