Something No Storm Could Wash Away

BY AWAKE! WRITERS IN GERMANY, AUSTRIA, MEXICO, AND KOREA

DURING the year 2002, catastrophic weather events took place in many lands. Europe was hit by a series of disastrous floods. In other parts of the globe, Mexico was struck by a devastating hurricane, and Korea by a typhoon. Tragic as these events were, they served to strengthen the bonds of love that exist among true Christians.

Following the 2002 floods in Europe, former chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt was asked what sort of help victims needed. He replied: “People need food and shelter, they need some money in their pockets, and they need spiritual care.” Jehovah’s Witnesses had a significant role in providing both physical and spiritual relief to storm victims. Consider the relief work they did in Germany, Austria, Mexico, and Korea.

Willing Hands in Germany

When the threat of the impending flood disaster became known, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany joined the efforts of the general public to stave off the floodwaters. Says 19-year-old Kathleen, who lives in Dresden: “I could not just sit and do nothing. Once I heard that some people stood at risk of losing everything, I just had to go and help.”

German Witnesses began organizing themselves to give swift and effective aid. As Christians, they felt a special obligation to help their spiritual brothers and sisters. But they also showed love for their neighbors. (Mark 12:31) More than 2,000 volunteers were thus grouped into crews of between 8 and 12 people, each group being assigned a specific task in the disaster area. At the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Selters, Germany, 13 telephone lines were reserved to take thousands of calls from people inquiring about the disaster and offering help.

Ronnie and Dina are full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who spend their time helping friends and neighbors learn Bible  truths. When they learned of the approaching floodwaters, they first went to the city center of Dresden to assist in the frantic efforts being made to save its historic buildings. Once the flood subsided, Ronnie and Dina joined other Witnesses in cleaning the Kingdom Hall in Freital, which had been flooded with filthy water. The group then began helping their neighbors. The owner of a restaurant opposite the hall heaved a sigh of relief when the Witnesses cleared his cellar and ground floor of rubble and sludge.

Siegfried and Hannelore live in Colmnitz, a village some 25 miles [40 km] southwest of Dresden. The stream that normally flows through the village swelled to a torrent, inundating their house and garden. Once the water subsided, neighbors were astonished to see about 30 Witnesses, strangers to the area, arrive to help clean Siegfried and Hannelore’s home. Next, the group began cleaning up neighboring gardens. Several villagers asked what prompted them to travel 60 miles [100 km] to help people they had never met. The Witnesses were thus able to offer spiritual encouragement to the victims in Colmnitz.

Suburbs of the town of Wittenberg were also hit by the floods. A Witness couple named Frank and Elfriede worked alongside their neighbors for several days before the flood, filling and stacking sandbags to reinforce the banks of the river. Once the flood subsided,  Frank and Elfriede visited victims, taking them food and consolation. Frank recalls: “One lady we called on could not believe that we, as strangers, brought her a meal without wanting any payment. She told us that no one from her church had called on her. And the organization that had brought her meals had charged her each time. People were amazed to see Jehovah’s Witnesses with a hot meal in their hands instead of Bible literature.”

Austria​—Quick Response to Disaster

Floodwaters also wreaked havoc in neighboring Austria. Three committees were set up to oversee relief measures. Priority was given to repairing three Kingdom Halls that were severely damaged. Also, among the Witnesses nearly 100 families were affected by the floods, and 50 homes were flooded. Some lost everything but the clothing on their backs. The branch office in Austria informed local congregations of the situation, and a relief fund was set up. By September more than $34,000 had been contributed.

One mother wrote: “My eight-year-old son is very thrifty and had saved up about $14. However, when he heard that some of our brothers had lost all their belongings, he was willing to contribute all of his savings to the disaster fund.”

Under the direction of Regional Building Committees (RBC), which normally supervise the construction of Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses, teams were organized to help restore homes that had been damaged by the floods. “Newspapers should report on what you people are accomplishing here,” exclaimed one observer. Some even changed their perception of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Up until now,” says one Witness parent, “my children, who are not Witnesses, would always turn a cold shoulder to me when I tried to share my faith with them. But now they are listening for the first time!”

Efforts were also made to help many who were not Witnesses. For example, one woman was deeply moved when one Witness came to  her house at 7:30 a.m. and asked if she needed help. The woman had to be evacuated, as the waters were already beginning to enter her home. When she returned, however, she found a note from the Witnesses on her garden gate. It read: “If you need help, let us know immediately.” Witnesses helped her to clear her house and property of sludge and debris.

A team of 100 Witnesses went to the township of Au to help local Witnesses and their neighbors. Team leaders called from door to door asking the residents if they needed help. People were astonished to see that Witnesses came equipped with water-removal and cleaning equipment, such as pumps, brooms, and shovels. Work that normally would have taken homeowners a week to complete was finished within a matter of hours. People watched with tears in their eyes.

Approximately 400 local Witnesses were involved in the relief effort​—often working around the clock. For onlookers, it was a dramatic testimony to the power of true Christianity.

Isidore Strikes Mexico

Isidore was born as a tropical storm north of Venezuela. On September 22, 2002, Isidore hit Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula as a category 3 hurricane. With winds of 120 miles per hour [190 kph] and heavy rains, it caused some of the most severe damage in the history of the Mexican states of Yucatán and Campeche as well as some damage in the state of Quintana Roo. In Yucatán alone, some 95,000 homes were seriously damaged, affecting about 500,000 people.

So effective a role did Jehovah’s Witnesses play in relief efforts in Yucatán that a newspaper headline in northern Mexico declared: “Jehovah’s Witnesses Come to the Rescue.” A relief committee was formed in advance of the storm’s arrival. Emergency arrangements were made to house several hundred local Witnesses. Nearby congregations provided emergency funds. Clothing, medicine, and over 22 tons of food were dispensed to storm survivors, including many non-Witnesses. Local elders were assigned to visit and encourage victims of Isidore.

After the storm hit, local relief committees were formed to help seek out missing Witnesses. Several had been isolated in the bush and other places for up to three days without food  or drinking water. In some areas the water had risen so high that it covered light poles! Thus, motorboats were obtained and used in searching for victims, feeding them, and transporting them to safer areas.

Local authorities lent boats and other equipment to the Witnesses, who offered to give aid in areas where few people dared to go. At first, an army official objected to letting the Witnesses make such a dangerous search. However, when he saw their intrepid spirit, he said: “I am convinced that you would go in with helicopters, if necessary, to rescue your people. Our vehicles are available to take your people wherever you wish.”

One store owner was curious as to why some Witnesses were buying bottled water in such large quantities. They explained that it was for their spiritual brothers and others who needed it. The man decided to give them all the bottled water he had​—free of charge. The following day he donated more water​—a considerable amount. At another store, a customer asked the Witnesses why they were buying so much food. When he heard that it was for the flood victims, he gave them a donation to buy more.

Although almost 3,500 Witness families suffered material losses as a result of Isidore, it turned out that none of Jehovah’s Witnesses were missing or dead. Still, with 331 homes of Witnesses damaged or destroyed, a reconstruction program was needed. Witnesses with construction experience visited each home and Kingdom Hall to evaluate the damage. To date, some 258 homes have been repaired and 172 replacement houses built. Also, the 19 damaged Kingdom Halls are in the process of being rebuilt.

An elder of a congregation in the state of Yucatán was moved to say: “I have read in our publications about the relief work carried out in other countries. However, living it is something else. My faith as well as that of many brothers has been strengthened by seeing with what swiftness and concern Jehovah’s organization and our dear brothers have come to our aid.”

One woman said: “I would have liked it if my church had given help as you Witnesses have done.” And another woman, who was rescued by the Witnesses, said: “Thanks to Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are not dead. They showed their love, risking their lives to rescue us when our house was under water.”

A Typhoon Strikes Korea

On August 31 and September 1, 2002, Typhoon Rusa cut a swath across Korea. Said Song-pil Cho, a congregation elder: “It felt like standing under a shower. And it just kept on raining and raining and raining.” Over 34 inches [870 mm] of rain came down in less than 24 hours​—the heaviest one-day precipitation on record there.

According to The Korea Herald, across the nation 28,100 houses and 210,000 acres [85,000 ha] of farmland were submerged. Some 70,000 people were forced to evacuate. The typhoon killed 301,000 head of livestock, sank 126 ships, and downed hundreds of electric power poles. More than 180 people were reported dead or missing. Among them were two of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As in Europe and Mexico, Jehovah’s Witnesses responded quickly. Contributions from Witnesses poured in from all over the country. These included clothes, blankets, and other necessities. Still, some congregation members lived in areas that had been cut off and isolated. Roads had been destroyed, and bridges wiped out. There was no electricity or phone service. So teams were organized to hike in and provide needed assistance. Song-pil Cho, who worked with one of the relief teams, describes one area they assisted: “Seven bridges and large sections of the road had been washed out. When we finally reached the town, damaged and destroyed houses were everywhere. There was a terrible odor, and dead animals were all around. But how we rejoiced when we met up with our six Christian brothers and  sisters! They had lost their material possessions, but all of them were alive and well.”

Actually, Jehovah’s Witnesses were well prepared for this disaster. Since flooding is not uncommon during the monsoon season, their RBC in the Seoul area had already begun organizing for future disaster relief. Starting in 1997, it sponsored yearly training sessions so that volunteers would be ready to respond if an emergency arose.

On September 2, RBC relief workers arrived at the east coast city of Kangnŭng and set up headquarters at the local Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first priority? Getting clean water to survivors. When heavy flooding takes place, water lines are usually damaged; floodwater is highly contaminated. The RBC arranged for large tank trucks full of water to be sent into afflicted areas.

After floodwaters recede, everything is coated with a foul-smelling thick mud. Nevertheless, an effective cleaning method has been developed. Since nearly all homes in the area are made of cement, they can be cleaned by stripping the rooms of wallpaper and linoleum and hosing them down with high-pressure water.

Flooding renders most electrical appliances useless. However, if within a few days, appliances such as refrigerators and boilers are disassembled by qualified electricians and then thoroughly cleaned, dried, and reassembled, in most cases they will continue to function. The RBC is organized to do such work. The boilers that do not need replacement are used to dry out the houses. That process takes between two and three weeks.

Flood-damaged clothes and blankets must also be thoroughly washed within a few days if they are to remain usable. Volunteers from a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses helped bag up the soiled possessions of their Christian brothers. The sludge permeating this clothing was very difficult to wash out​—and the washing had to be done by hand in a very, very cold stream. After a newspaper reporter learned of this labor of love, a large picture of the Witnesses doing the work appeared in the local newspaper.

The disastrous floods in Europe, North America, and Asia washed away homes, property, and countless innocent human lives. Tragic though they are, such events are common during these “last days” of this system of things, which are marked by “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Such catastrophes may also serve as a dramatic reminder of this fact: True Christians have love for one another and for their neighbors. Such unselfish love is something that no storm can wash away.

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GERMANY​—A house devastated by the storm

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GERMANY​—Over 2,000 volunteers gave swift relief

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AUSTRIA​—Repairing their Kingdom Hall in Ottensheim

Left: A team of volunteers return from Au, where they helped local Witnesses and their neighbors

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MEXICO​—Right: A relief committee provides drinking water for storm survivors

Below: Building a replacement house

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KOREA​—From left to right: An inundated city section; high-pressure water cleaning; laundering in a nearby stream