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Here’s an excerpt from Tsunami 2004 – Still Wading Through Waves of Hope
January 2005, just after tsunami
“Send us to the most devastated, remote villages where no one else has gone.”
My husband’s zeal was admirable, but concern reared its head in me. I glanced at Vicky, our parish member who volunteered to join us on the mission. She leaned forward in her seat, eyes bright with anticipation.
Brave soul, even the lizard on the wall didn’t faze her. But this was her first trip to India. Lizards would be the least of our difficulties.
Chennai’s sea breeze wafted through Father Michael Vyakulam’s open office window at St. Bede’s Orphanage and School. My husband (Anglican priest) and Father Vyakulam (Roman Catholic priest) faced each other from across a desk.
Nearly three decades ago, the elder led a vocations camp for boys interested in Holy Orders. He recommended Leo Michael, a zealous thirteen-year-old, for the junior seminary. The two clerics remained dear friends, regardless of their divergent paths.
Father Vyakulam glanced heavenward. Was he consulting God in some silent prayer for wisdom or asking forgiveness for where he was about to send us?
I breathed in the tangy air and hushed my fears. God wouldn’t let us down. He’d guided us from the moment we received the news that a major tsunami roared onto the shores of South India.
Ten days earlier, in a frantic but familiar Indian accent, the news came to us through the phone like headlines.
“Thousands feared dead. Seaside villages wiped out.”
I bolted upright.
My husband of two years put his hand over the receiver. “It’s Decruz. Turn on the news. Something terrible has happened back home.”
I grabbed the remote off the nightstand, then checked the clock. We had collapsed in bed only an hour earlier, exhausted after the busy Christmas season ended with the last Mass at a nursing home, followed by Holy Communion offered to a homebound member.
At the same time—given a twelve-hour time zone difference, making it Christmas Day evening—those in India were waking up to a catastrophic nightmare.
TV headlines matched my brother-in-law’s report. An earthquake in the early hours of the morning, near the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, caused a tsunami that had slammed the southern peninsular coast of India on Sunday morning.
Due to no warning system, many were feared dead.
Some of my husband’s family lived in Bangalore, Karnataka; others lived in a Tamil Nadu hill station. Neither locale was coastal. Our relatives were safe. Thank God. We said good-bye to Decruz and planted ourselves before the TV.
Just a few years earlier, my husband had lived and served as a Catholic priest to schools and orphanages in the affected coastal region. His shoulders slumped with each rising death count. Fellow clergy, friends, and children he’d cared for likely would have been among the casualties.
The next day, a local Northwest Arkansas newspaper reporter phoned. “Father Leo, is your family okay?”
A few hours later, in the reporter’s office, my husband shared his knowledge of the tsunami-affected area in South India. “Houses made of mud walls and thatched coconut leaf roofs would be decimated.
“Men would have been out fishing. Wives would be waiting for their husbands’ return to take the fish to market. Children would have been sleeping or playing along the seashore.” He lowered his head. “So many would have been caught unawares.”
“How would you help the victims?”
I think the reporter meant, how would a person help? In general or hypothetically—like, how would you like to help? But my husband accepted the question as a challenge. He leaned forward.
“We will begin a fundraiser.” He patted my knee. “We will go to any length, do whatever it takes to raise money, then we will go to India and personally take money to those most affected.”
TEN days later, trekking into impassable villages and decimated shorelines, my husband devised an amazing plan to help widows and orphans and those most affected by the tsunami. TEN years later, we returned to the same villages and encountered surprising changes and a life-threatening situation.