General John Larsson is the international leader of The Salvation Army
From the top: In the Wake of the Tsunami
by General John Larsson
The Indian Ocean tsunami left a trail of death and destruction in its wake on that fateful day, 26 December 2004. It was all so sudden, so unexpected. One moment sunshine and peaceful shores. The next – horror as the waves wreaked havoc, destroying communities and drowning their inhabitants. The tsunami disaster left in its wake a vast, almost unquantifiable, toll of human suffering. And the whole human family united in shock and in grief.
But the tsunami also brought something else in its wake. It brought courage and heroism. How our hearts were moved at the accounts of how individuals caught up in the tragedy gave of themselves to rescue others – sometimes even sacrificing their own lives. Mixed with the struggle for survival were glimpses of the human spirit at its best.
And in its wake the tsunami brought an unprecedented outpouring of practical help and support. The tragedy crossed man-made borders, involving not only one particular geographic region but also visitors from afar. This was a tragedy that belonged to the world. And the world responded in an extraordinary way. Governments, aid organisations of all kinds, churches and individuals rose to the challenge – each in its own way. And among them were The Salvation Army and Salvationists.
I want to salute and honour the Salvationists of India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia who were right there, living in or near the communities that were hit. (The Salvation Army is not yet at work in Thailand.) In the finest tradition of Salvationism they immediately sprang into action – helping and serving and ministering. Salvationists were therefore among the first on the scene.
In India The Salvation Army is administratively divided into six territories, of which four were touched by the disaster. I want to thank the leaders of those four territories, together with the leaders of the Sri Lanka and Indonesia Territories, for their response to the disaster. Rescue work was immediately organised and relief teams despatched to the suffering areas.
I also want to salute and honour the personnel of the International Emergency Services Section at International Headquarters who, with their unrivalled experience and skills, sprang into action without a moment’s delay.
When my wife and I did the rounds at IHQ just before Christmas to wish everyone well for Christmas and the New Year, I noticed that all members of the Emergency Services Section were at their desks. I commented to them that this was evidence there was no major disaster happening anywhere in the world. How quickly that was to change.
Since the disaster struck, the International Emergency Services staff have engaged in the tasks of being on the front line themselves, providing resources to rescue workers, reconnoitring in the field for immediate and longer-term aid, organising international relief teams, coordinating the flow of financial resources and getting programmes of reconstruction under way.
Only days after the disaster a summit conference, under the presidency of the Chief of the Staff, involving the leaders of all territories and departments concerned was held at International Headquarters to coordinate all aspects of the relief operation. Temporary tsunami offices have been established at IHQ and in Chennai, India. The IHQ Communications Section has been heavily involved with the continual flow of necessary information, especially through the Salvation Army web site.
I also want to salute and honour the Salvation Army territories – and indeed divisions and corps and individuals – who in the wake of the tsunami have given and raised funds for the relief operation. As the tributaries of a river come together to form a broad stream, these contributions from thousands of sources have flowed together into a mighty flood of practical assistance. To IHQ falls the tasks of channelling those resources to where they will accomplish the greatest good for the victims of the tsunami.
I also want to thank the many Salvationists from around the world who have volunteered to be members of international relief teams. Not content only with offering financial aid they have said: ‘If you need us, we are ready!’ Admirable indeed.
When the tsunami struck, the Army was among the first to be there. And the Army will be among the last to leave. Long after the story has moved off the front pages of the media the Army will still be engaged in reconstruction work.
The tsunami disaster caused destruction of unparalleled proportions. Thank God that in its wake it brought an unparalleled outpouring of practical assistance from around the world.
As the General of an Army that is called to serve wherever there is human need, I am pleased to affirm that we are doing, and will keep on doing, our part.