In 2001 an earthquake shook Gujarat, India, killing tens of thousands of people. Thousands more were injured and left homeless after the quake, which reached 7.9 on the Richter scale, devastated the region on India's western coast.
While Hindu priests prayed for the dead, Campus Crusade for Christ staff members responded differently to one of the worst earthquakes in this country's history. They were some of the first people on the scene to help the living.
Initially 10 relief workers with Campus Crusade surveyed the area in the Gujarat region, bounded by the Arabian Sea, and identified 1,000 families in need of assistance.
"It is a time for the body of Christ to rise up and show our Father's love to the victims of this disaster," said Campus Crusade staff member John Esteves.
The relief workers spotted a sparsely populated village called Lakhapar. The quake demolished every home in this area -- all 108 of them. In the meantime, the victims had set up makeshift tents for shelter.
The staff members wanted to show the love of Christ to these people. So they sought permission from government officials to build new homes for them.
They told the officials that they were followers of Christ, then asked them if they had any objections to receiving the help. One official replied candidly, "Because you are Christians, we want to accept your help."
"This speaks volumes on their response to us as Christians," said John.
So then they submitted their building plans to another agency to certify that the houses they wanted to build were earthquake -- and cyclone -- resistant.
"After minute scrutiny of the building plans through a government-appointed engineer," said John, "we were finally given the go-ahead to start the construction."
The staff members in West India then built 108 houses each 282 square feet, about the size of two bedrooms in the United States. On the national news, Sushama Swaraj, the government minister of broadcasting, proclaimed, "You are doing a very good job; please keep it up. God bless you!"
"[This region] had been one of the most difficult areas in India to reach out to with the gospel prior to the earthquake," said John. "Yet after the disaster, God opened doors for Campus Crusade staff members to meet village leaders, high-ranking officials and members of the Parliament."
Clearly the staff members built more than houses. "Our overall impression on the success of this entire relief effort was [the] building [of] credibility and relationships with the people in Gujarat," wrote John on behalf of the staff members in their building-project report. "As we demonstrated the love and compassion of Christ through our relief efforts, the victims were able to see Christianity and Christians in a new light."
It took about a year to finish the 108 houses. Perhaps the Indians will see Christianity differently and let Christ rebuild their lives. "One and all accepted us warmly and lovingly," one staff member says. "To us, this has been the greatest hallmark of our mission in Gujarat."