When people ask TEAM missionary Ellen* if she has post-traumatic stress after living through twin massive earthquakes in Nepal, she tells them no. It’s not that the threat of earthquakes has ceased to frighten her. “It’s not ‘post,’” she says, “because it’s never gone away.”
One year ago today, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ravaged Nepal, followed less than a month later by a 7.3 earthquake. Over 600,000 homes were decimated and nearly 9,000 people were killed, making the dual tragedies the nation’s deadliest disaster on record.
Even now, significant aftershocks continue to strike, with over 445 of a magnitude 4 or above since the first quake. Two of them rose above 6.5.
“When people say ‘aftershock’ or ‘tremor,’ they think it’s some sort of wiggle, … but these are legitimate earthquakes,” Ellen said.
Sadly, though, it isn’t just aftershocks complicating Nepal’s recovery. Last year, TEAM supporters sent $200,000 in aid to Nepal. What may have happened without those funds, Ellen said, is “unfathomable.”
Relief That Never Came
TEAM partnered with local churches and organizations to repair and outfit a school for 400 children and to provided temporary shelters for each family in a suffering village.
The shelters were simple, but when monsoon rains hit in June, they became lifesaving. Without these temporary units, Ellen said, “Their animals would have died, all of their grain would have been wet and spoiled, and they would have had nothing to eat and no shelter.”
Everyone assumed that when the monsoon season ended, there would be a big rush of relief efforts. But, after nearly a decade of debate, the country promulgated a new constitution in September.
In an instant, promises and plans for relief turned to dust. More significantly, some people groups felt slighted by the new constitution. In protest, they formed a blockade along the Nepali-Indian border, prohibiting the entrance of gasoline and cooking gas.
Soon, schools closed down, the few public buses still running overflowed so that people had to ride on the roofs and the air filled with ash as entire cities began cooking over fires, unable to use their gas-run cooking burners. But that was just the start.
Even during good times, Nepalis only get a few hours of electricity a day, so much of the country runs on diesel generators. Patients died as hospitals couldn’t perform operations and pharmaceutical companies couldn’t make medicines.
Cities and villages alike faced water shortages because water plants couldn’t operate and damaged piping couldn’t be repaired. Vegetables and meat became unaffordable in the public square or even on the black market. As winter rolled in, Nepalis couldn’t use their cooking gas-run heaters, so they built fires for warmth — in addition to cooking fires — increasing deforestation as they struggled to find enough wood.
Meanwhile, relief efforts all but ceased.
Without gasoline, government and non-profit groups had little ability to transport relief materials. The simple, metal shelters TEAM supporters provided were the only thing some people had protecting them from the cold—and they were the lucky ones. According to Elle, in one village where no shelters were provided, seven children died from the cold in a week’s time.
The Only Hope for a Hopeless People
In the Hindu-Nepali mindset, all of this is deserved due to actions in previous lives. Every earthquake, water shortage and blockade has been determined by fate, and God himself can’t change it.
“It’s a hard worldview to live within, especially as a Christian desperate to see people … have hope and realize that you can’t give them hope until they know Jesus,” Ellen said. But the earthquakes are giving her and other Christians new opportunities to share the gospel.
“The Nepalis would ask us, ‘After the earthquakes, all of the foreigners that weren’t Christians left. Why did you stay?’ And they’re seeing Christian Nepalis reaching out to them that might be a different caste, maybe a different group that normally wouldn’t interact with them. That spoke volumes to them,” Ellen said.
The school TEAM supporters helped refurbish is located in a village where foreigners previously weren’t allowed. Now, the village has invited Ellen to come back and continue to help them.
Building a Stronger Nepal
In the meantime, people have also begun to rebuild, using materials from their old homes and their temporary shelters. With the funds remaining after initial relief, TEAM is partnering with local churches and organizations to teach Nepalis how to build earthquake-proof homes in their own, cultural style.
Rebuilding, Ellen said, is what the focus needs to be now. In keeping with its focus on church planting, TEAM is no longer looking for relief donations, but Ellen encourages those still eager to give to find people with a vision for building a self-sufficient Nepal that can recover from disaster and won’t be ruined when cut off from other nations.
“Pray that Nepal, in general, learns from everything that happened in this last year and tries to become a stronger nation. … and that God will raise up strong Christian leaders in places that can make a difference.”
*Name changed for missionary’s safety