Sichuan Earthquake (Part 1)

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Mianzhu Catholic church before the quake. Photo: Chengdu Catholic Diocese
Mianzhu Catholic church before the quake. Photo: Chengdu Catholic Diocese
Mianzhu Catholic church after the quake. Photo: Chengdu Catholic Diocese
Mianzhu Catholic church after the quake. Photo: Chengdu Catholic Diocese

On May 12, 2008, China was wrecked by a deadly 8.0 magnitude earthquake which struck the province of Sichuan leaving 5 million homeless and 15 million people displaced. The death toll reached 69,226 according to the latest official records. Nearly 9,000 children died when their schools collapsed in the earthquake while more than 5,000 children were orphaned. There were 18,627 people reported missing and 374,643 locals were badly injured.

The earthquake’s epicenter at Wenchuan made the counties of Beichuan, Wenchuan, Pengzhou, Dujiangyan, Mianzhu and Shifang, the most severely hit counties in the region.

In Mianzhu alone which has a total land area of 1,245.3 sq km and a population of 520,000, it was estimated that more than 30,000 had been injured. 85% of the Mianzhu Christians are poor, living in rural and mountainous areas. Official reports as of May this year revealed that 6,805 of Mianzhu’s residents have died and countless of people were still missing. Notably, in many rural areas, village infrastructure, including roads and water systems had sustained severe damage. More than 90% of the homes had been destroyed and people were living on subsistence. Needless to say the churches in Sichuan were not unaffected by the disaster. Some Christian lives had been lost, others lost their homes while the damages done on many of the church buildings were irreparable and deemed structurally dangerous.

Aftermath of the earthquake hitting Mianzhu. Photo: UBS China Partners
Aftermath of the earthquake hitting Mianzhu. Photo: UBS China Partnership.

The Mianzhu church and its subsidiary buildings were irreparably damaged during the quake. Church staff had to erect temporary tents to sleep in and use a nearby area as a place of worship. In spite of its structural constraints, the church acted as a local distribution point for rice, oil, clothes and even bibles. Through the efforts of the local pastor, together with some Christian volunteers, more than 700 people are presently attending the worship service held in tents at the church grounds. This was a marked increase from its 200 strong membership prior to the earthquake.

Never was there are greater need for more Bibles and other Christian materials that would bring comfort to the grieving. The local pastor shared God’s words of encouragement to the congregation as some question the sovereignty of God with regard to the calamity. The new believers needed the assurance that God is good and that He has not forgotten the Chinese people.

In Beichuan County, the local government has relocated students of junior and senior high levels to schools in other cities. However, there were no plans for children at the kindergarten and primary levels. This need spurred Christian volunteers to build tents housing temporary elementary schools for young children. They also became teachers and taught in these made-shift schools.

Classroom in a tent in Beichuan County Photo: UBS China Partnership.
Classroom in a tent in Beichuan County Photo: UBS China Partnership.

When Rev Dr Miller Milloy, the General Secretary of the United Bible Societies (UBS), pledged to the churches in China all the scriptural resources that may be needed for the people in the affected areas, 30,000 copies of the Catholic Studium Biblicum Version and 40,000 of the Protestant Chinese Union Version were delivered to the churches. These bibles were given to Christian survivors who have lost their bibles in the earthquake and for those who did not previously own a copy.

In addition, UBS also supported the TSPM/China Christian Council in distributing 100,000 Scriptural booklets with selected verses of encouragement and comfort from the Bible to all affected by the disaster.

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Earthquake survivors in An County holding “Words of Encouragement” scriptural booklets. Photo by TSPM/CCC

Article written by: Ms. Pamela Choo & Ms. Zhang
for United Bible Societies China Partnership