In southeast India, time will now be marked by the day the tsunami changed everything.
Just 67 days before, Varghese Paul, a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member in India, brought a group of students to Tarangambadi, a seaside village of 5,000.
During a 5-day student retreat, 44 college leaders were trained in evangelism and discipleship. In the evenings their training became practical. Walking around the beaches, the students presented the gospel to 233 of the villagers and fishermen, and handed out over 1,000 gospel tracts. In this predominately Hindu country, the students prayed with 147 villagers -- young and old -- who placed their faith in Jesus.
On December 26, 2004this fishing hamlet was wiped out.
Word of the tragedy reached Varghese that evening. "The first thing that came to our minds was the faces of people -- especially the children -- that we met and spent time with during the camp," he says. "We rushed to see the people and to find out what happened to them."
Campus Crusade staff members and many of the same students traveled over damaged roads and collapsed bridges to reach Tarangambadi. There they found devastation.
"There were no houses, no boats at the beaches, no people and no more children," says Varghese. "Their pains, sorrow and hunger were painful for us. None of us had ever seen such a terrible scene and tragedy." For 2 days the group helped in 5 relief camps, distributing food packets and blankets. Another group of staff members returned 2 days later to help give away supplies and comfort villagers.
"As Christians it is our responsibility and privilege to help those affected," says Varghese. The staff members are now planning long-term relief efforts, including the rebuilding of houses in the village.
Now, says Varghese, these student leaders wish they had done more on their October retreat. "They say that the time they spent swimming and playing in the sand should have been used for reaching more people," he says.
As of February 1, 2005 the government confirmed that nearly 11,000 Indians had died and another 5,640 were still missing. Varghese says that 750 people died in Tarangambadi, but surviving villagers believe the number of casualties is nearly twice that.
In sadness, Varghese recalls those lost. An 18-year-old boy lost his father, mother and brother; a 70-year-old woman lost eight of her family members.
But in hope, Varghese knows a new urgency to share the gospel has been found.
"Anything can happen to this world at any time," he says. "Never take it lightly when you get a chance for preaching the gospel. Use your time wisely for every opportunity."