Quake survivors see 'God with us' in name & heart of Ala. team

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--Survivors of a devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran, are seeing the love of God demonstrated through the work of Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers from Alabama who traveled to the scene to help.

The suffering of the city's residents is heartbreaking, volunteers said.

The words "Alabama Disaster Relief" provided the first witness to God's love as the team began unloading equipment and supplies, said team leader Larry Murphy of Enterprise, Ala.

Iranian helpers saw those words stenciled on the side of supply crates and saw in "Alabama" a combination of words in their own language: "Ala" sounds like their word for God, "Ba" like their word for "with" and "ma" like "us."

The Iranians translated "Alabama Disaster Relief" to mean "'God with us' Disaster Relief."

"When I heard that, I just jumped and said, 'Yes!'" Murphy said.

REDUCED TO RUBBLE

The Alabama team was assigned the lead role in feeding operations in Bam, a key role in the wider relief response mounted by humanitarian organizations from around the world. A Baptist Men's team from Texas followed the Alabama volunteers into the heart of the ruined city. Baptist disaster relief volunteers from several other states plan to follow in the weeks to come.

The Dec. 26 earthquake killed more than one-third of Bam's 80,000 inhabitants. The tremor, which registered 6.6 on the Richter scale, reduced the entire city to rubble. Tens of thousands of residents are homeless.

The Alabama volunteers supplied more than 900 meals a day to survivors living in a refugee camp outside the city. Plans are in place to increase that capacity so more than 2,000 meals a day can be provided.

Volunteers also are providing water and medical assistance and distributing sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and other goods. They have identified reconstruction needs, including the possibility of building an orphanage. More than 1,200 children have been left without any living relative. Other relief possibilities may include constructing a temporary school and earthquake-resistant houses or providing childcare and counseling.

'WHEN THEY CALL, I GO'

The suffering being experienced by the city's residents is heartbreaking, volunteers said.

"The devastation here is far worse than I thought," said Henry Brady, 76, a disaster relief volunteer from Robertsdale, Ala. "Each time I had an opportunity to see the city or a neighborhood, I just broke down and cried. It brings up a lot of emotion of compassion and hurt, and you only wish you could have come sooner to help."

"We have the luxury of going home in 14 days," added Bob Ewing, 38, a volunteer from Saraland, Ala. "These people have to be here for the rest of their lives. It breaks your heart. It is impossible for us not to take things for granted until we live in a place like this."

The Alabama volunteers leaped into action when news of the earthquake broke, said Terry Henderson, disaster relief director for the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga. Their team was on the ground in Iran within eight days.

Mark Clayton, 38, from Birmingham, Ala., was on vacation with his family when another team member called him about the emergency.

"I had just put my boat in the water when I got the call," Clayton said. "I packed up the boat and the family and went back home. This takes priority over anything else. When they call, I go."


Contributions to relief efforts in Iran through the International Mission Board World Hunger and Relief Ministries may be made at http://resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/1118.htm. Contributions also may be mailed to: Iran earthquake response, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230-0767. Make checks payable to International Mission Board and designate "Iran earthquake -- General Relief." Every penny of each donation will be used to provide food, shelter and other immediate needs in the aftermath of the earthquake in Bam, Iran. Pray needs for the Persian-speaking world posted at

www.imb.org/CompassionNet/PeopleGroups.asp. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GRIEVING, A MOTHER’S SORROW, LOST, A NEW DAY and TAKING THE LEAD.

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