April 16, 2016, Ecuador suffered a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that claimed 672 lives, caused 6,300 injuries, and displaced over 30,000 people. In just a few seconds, buildings were leveled and roads completely destroyed in the widespread devastation. As one would imagine, a natural disaster like this created immediate chaos and desperation. People were digging through the rubble with their bare hands in an attempt to rescue their loved ones. Communities were completely cut off from any resources or help. A sense of hopelessness and confusion engulfed the region in moments.
Within hours, Church of God World Missions was at ground zero to help those who were suffering. Even though the roads to ground zero were treacherous and the threat of the shipments being hijacked in transit was very high, the World Missions family rallied together to receive, organize, transport, and distribute emergency food, water, and supplies to those in need. Also near the epicenter, water filtration and purification systems were installed in area churches and became sources of hope and life in a time of great despair and darkness, as they provided safe, clean drinking water to their communities.
As the infrastructure improved and government agencies provided the basic needs of the victims, World Missions shifted its focus towards the enormous task of rebuilding what was lost and giving long-term care to the survivors. Dozens of churches and parsonages were either partially or completely destroyed. Equally, if not more, devastating was the psychological and emotional trauma endured by the survivors. While trying to grieve the loss of family members, friends, and neighbors, over 26,000 people were relocated to shelters, and still experiencing hundreds of powerful aftershocks. The mental and emotional well-being of the people was as shaky as the land they tried to stand upon.
God laid a special burden on Missionaries Bobby and Tamitha Lynch to lead a special initiative—Project M:25 GIVE Care (World Missions Project #102-9249-55)—to focus on helping the children who experienced this great trauma. They heard heartbreaking story-after-story of young boys and girls who had their lost homes, parents, and siblings during the earthquake. Many children were unable to sleep due to nightmares and were terrified at the slightest breeze of wind. Tamitha Lynch reached out to Dr. Heather Quagliana, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Lee University, for some advice on how she could help the Ecuadorian children deal with, and heal from, the distress. Immediately, God sparked a passion in Dr. Quagliana to put the entire efforts of her department behind this task. She and her husband, Dr. David Quagliana, who is also a professor of psychology at Lee University, assembled a team to quickly write a manual on how to address this issue. Just four weeks after the earthquake, a team from Lee University arrived in Ecuador to work with the Lynches and their team of seminary students from SEMISUD (the Church of God World Missions seminary located in Ecuador). Within hours, a combined World Missions team of 25 people from seven countries were trained and deployed to ground zero of the earthquake’s devastation.
The team arrived to find an overwhelming scene of devastation. Rubble was piled everywhere and people were living in deplorable conditions. The stench from the bodies buried beneath the debris was an ever-present reminder of the horrific upheaval that had occurred. Immediately, the team went to work and conducted training sessions with hundreds of pastors, teachers, and other community leaders. They were equipped to help the children process their emotions and trauma. The team also worked directly with the children offering a light-hearted Gospel-centered program designed to help the boys and girls process their feelings in a healthy manner. Trauma care packages, specifically designed with psychological and emotional healing in mind, were distributed to thousands of children.
In the midst of this great tragedy and overwhelming despair, God used Church of God World Missions to offer hope and healing. Victims of this devastating earthquake received emergency food, water, and supplies. Churches and parsonages are being rebuilt. Also, the Project M:25 GIVE Care initiative helped calm children’s fears and boys and girls to cope with their losses and shock. Through World Mission’s immediate and long-term responses, the light of God’s love shined brightly and He was glorified.
We hope you would choose to be a part of preparing for inevitable disaster. We can choose now to save some, sustain others, and provide hope and love for all God sends our way.