Report: Pastor John
I am Pastor John, leading a gospel team of Bibles for Mideast in South Asia, and have worked many years with Pastor Paul’s mission. I led a gospel team in Gandhidham, in the state of Gujarat in North India.
At 8:46 a.m. on January 26, 2001, a magnitude 9 earthquake lasting over two minutes shook Gujarat while citizens celebrated the 52nd Republic Day of India. It was one of the deadliest earthquakes in our country’s history. Around 20,000 people died, including 9110 women and 7065 children aged newborn to 14. The quake created 348 orphans and 826 widows. 170,000 were injured and more than one million left homeless. Many historical buildings were flattened.
The earthquake’s epicenter was 20 kilometers from Bhuj, a city in the region known as Kutch—the worst affected district. Several villages disappeared from the map completely. Many buildings fell like playing cards, and property damage totaled nearly $8 billion.
Ghandhidham is an important commercial city of Kutch District, 10 kilometers from India’s largest sea port, Kandla Port, and 40 kilometers from Bhuj, a city 90% destroyed by the earthquake. Kutch region alone reported more than 17,000 deaths. Close to 5,000 people died in the city of Gandhidham.
On that fateful day, we were about to begin a three-day missionary conference in a hotel in Ghandhidham. Thirty-five pastors had travelled from different parts of India to take part, and had rooms on several floors of the five-story hotel. I decided to stay in my own house just a kilometer away since I did not want my wife and young children to be home alone.
The conference was supposed to start at 9.00 in the morning on the hotel’s third floor. I reached there, along with three of our gospel team members, by 8.30. We began arranging the conference hall for the meeting.
Suddenly, we heard a terrible sound from the ground floor. Thinking at first that hotel staff had started the generator, we were then startled as the building began to shake violently, like a pendulum. The noise almost deafened us, and it was impossible to even move a step in any direction.
I was thrown to the platform five meters away. The side wall of the conference room caved in, piercing through the slab of the next floor. Air conditioners and fans were tossed about, and tables, chairs and cupboards turned upside down. Within seconds, the hall filled with sand, dust and smoke.
I could not see my friends, or anything else around me. Before I could understand anything or even think of escape, I felt the whole building sink downward. I shouted to my friends and others who were in the hall to get out immediately. My ears and nose were covered with sand and dust and I could barely breathe. Coughing, I headed for the door and tried my level best to open it. It wouldn’t budge. So I cried out to the Lord Jesus.
“Jesus, you alone are our protector and you are able to save us! Save us Lord!” I cried out "JESUS"again and again.
I then felt the presence of Jesus in the room, and felt His loving touch on my shoulder. Amazingly, I stopped coughing and was able to breathe again without trouble. Looking around, I could see my friends were still suffocating.
By God’s infinite grace, all conference participants from every floor managed to get out safely. While the hotel’s walls and roof had collapsed, the floors had not given way. Sadly however, three hotel workers died. But in a hotel next to us, 24 were killed. Certainly it was because of our Lord’s protection towards His children that we all escaped.
Outside, we heard screaming and saw dead bodies of both people and animals everywhere. Most buildings around were completely destroyed. Those who had escaped were running for their lives.
I of course had no idea what might have happened to my wife and children. I ran as quickly as possible towards our house, and along with my friends, called for the help of our Lord. When I saw my family standing outside of the house, I could do nothing but praise and thank God. Only our house windows and doors had been broken. While many nearby homes had been destroyed and scores of people lost their lives, miraculously all of our gospel team members survived.
We began relief work immediately. Pastor Paul, the director of our ministry, somehow managed to reach us and joined in the aid efforts. With God’s help, we saved hundreds of people from the devastated buildings.
We must also mention the tremendous service offered by Mr. Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat (and India’s current Prime Minister). He led relief efforts over the region, visiting affected areas by hitching rides on people's motorbikes, or using any available mode of transport. Pastor Paul and myself met him during his visit.
While all conference participants were safe, they did lose everything they had brought with them. They also, with great difficulty, managed to return to their homes. No water, no electricity, no restaurants, no hospitals, radio or television— everything was in disarray. Eighty percent of all water and food sources had been destroyed. One man took more than 10 days to get back to his place, a journey normally 40 hours by train. Along the way he had to borrow what he could, including warm clothes, to survive.
One of our mission supporters, trapped beneath his collapsed home, felt the Lord protecting him under His wings. Relief workers finally found and rescued him three days later. Thirty-five hours after the quake, rescuers also found and rescued a small girl less than a year old trapped beneath a neighboring home.
Later I moved to another region and continue my involvement with the underground ministries of Bibles for Mideast, distributing bibles and planting house churches.
“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19).