For many living in the United States, the day after Christmas brings a trip to the mall to return unwanted gifts, or a relaxing day in front of the TV soaking up the end of the NFL season. But for thousands in southern Asia, this Dec. 26 brought terror, devastation and death as giant waves, caused by the most powerful earthquake on Earth in 40 years, crashed in around them.


According to the Associated Press, the magnitude 9.0 quake struck about 7 a.m. Sunday (7 p.m. ET Saturday) and was centered 100 miles off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island. The quake then triggered deadly tidal waves, called tsunami, that swept across the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Somalia, killing an estimated 23,000 people.


As families in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand try to determine what to do next, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), New Directions International, World Vision and Gospel for Asia – among other groups – are developing plans that will put the love and spirit of Christmas into action.


“The devastation has left everybody in shock,“ J.L. Williams, founder and CEO of New Directions International (NDI), told by phone today. “It is comparable to a natural Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Everybody is reeling under the massive weight and magnitude of this disaster, and trying to strike where they can.”


Connecting with key national ministries and leaders – the heartbeat of NDI’s approach to missions – is particularly valuable at a time like this, says Williams.  “Whereas it takes large government organizations time to respond because they have to fly in their own people and set up their own infrastructure, we have people who live there. They are on the ground 24/7. They know the country and know the culture, and can respond immediately in a way that expatriates just aren’t able to. That’s why we are glad we have these partnerships and relationships that we can stand alongside and give them the resources.”


The Evangelical Church of India (ECI), for example, has been an NDI partner for more than two-and-a-half decades. With nearly 2000 churches across the nation, ECI plants an average of three new churches a week, says Williams. “They have a strong social application of the gospel, primarily because they are working among the Dalits (untouchables) and tribals who are the most marginalized people in the country because of the caste system.”


Through the years, NDI has raised funds to build dozens of churches in partnership with ECI. One, on the coast at Chennai, India, has just been designated as a feeding and relief center for victims of the earthquake and tidal waves. “Little did we realize,” says Williams, “when we built that church probably half a dozen years ago that it was going to be, among other things, for such a time as this.”


In an email message to Williams, Bishop Ezra Sargunam (the head of ECI), described the scene in India: “Dead bodies have been piling up in the government hospitals. … The most tragic element of the calamity was that the majority of the victims were children, women, the aged and the infirm who couldn’t escape the ravaging waves. Those who did escape a watery-grave lost their homes and all their belongings and are literally on the streets, homeless and penniless. The fear of an outbreak of an epidemic is also looming large with numerous rotting human and animal carcasses lying everywhere.”