Dec. 26 marks the fifth anniversary since a series of
devastating tsunamis hit the Indian Ocean in 2004. One of the deadliest natural
disasters in recorded history, the storm struck 11 countries and left more than
225,000 people dead. Southern Baptists gave more than $17 million in tsunami
relief funds. These articles share
the journey of an Indian couple, Paramesvaran and Choodamani, in finding hope
again, underscoring the help Southern Baptists were able to provide through
International Mission Board representative Cole Elbridge* and Baptists’ giving
through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for
TAMIL NADU, India — “Daddy, what’s that?”
Paramesvaran looked toward the ocean.
Curiosity turned to
horror as a 30-foot wave bore down on him and 5-year-old son Kirubasan. He
grabbed the boy and ran.
But it was too late.
The wave lifted them off the ground and tossed them back
Paramesvaran’s son slipped from his grasp.
The water swept Paramesvaran along until he could grab hold
of a palm tree.
Clinging tightly against the force of the waves, he felt the
rough trunk rip into his arms, leaving gaping wounds.
Almost five years later, one glance at the jagged scars
stretching along his arms like tattoos can transport him back to that day —
Dec. 26, 2004.
The Indian Ocean earthquake, which triggered a series of
devastating tsunamis, was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded
As the tsunami waters receded, Paramesvaran stumbled home in
He found his wife Choodamani sitting on the second floor of their house.
The waves had topped the retaining wall around their house,
located less than five minutes from the beach, and flooded the first floor.
What about Kirubasan and daughters Rakshanya, 12, and
They and seven out-of-town relatives who had come to visit for
Paramesvaran’s 40th birthday had gone to the beach with Paramesvaran that day.
Paramesvaran had not seen any of them.
The rest of the day he searched the beach for his children,
joined by panic-stricken neighbors also searching for loved ones.
learned that more than 225,000 people had been killed by the tsunami that
struck India, Indonesia and 10 other countries.
By midnight Paramesvaran had found his children’s bodies and
the bodies of most of his relatives.
He found Kirubasan “lying like a stone
statue” on the beach.
Rakshanya was floating face down in the ocean.
The waves left Karunya’s body entangled in a thorn bush.
next morning he buried his children together in a grave he dug by hand.
Local Hindus said he and Choodamani were being punished for
converting years ago to Christianity. His own brother taunted him, “Where is
Reeling with grief, the couple considered a suicide pact.
Paramesvaran was haunted by thoughts of letting go of his
son’s hand. Choodamani was angry that her husband had taken the children to the
beach so early that day.
It was Sunday, and they should have been getting ready
God began to comfort Choodamani in those first few days
following the tsunami. She realized how blessed she was to still have her
husband and to be alive.
“God talked to me in a very crystal-clear voice,” she says.
“(God said,) ‘Don’t be upset. So many people died, and yet your husband is
alive…. I have some purpose in your life.’
“It’s why we are still alive,” she realized.
Paramesvaran, however, continued to sink deeper into
depression and thoughts of suicide.
“I went to my wife and asked her, ‘Can I drink any poison?’”
he recounts. “‘Can I commit suicide? I don’t want to live.’”
Choodamani attempted to comfort her husband by sharing what
God had revealed to her. Instead, he became angry. He didn’t feel God’s
comfort; he couldn’t hear His voice.
Paramesvaran pushed his wife out of the room, locked the
door and collapsed to his knees.
“I was beating my hands saying, ‘Oh, Jesus, speak to me,’”
he says. “I asked God why He hadn’t given me a word.”
Grasping photos of his children and caressing their faces,
Paramesvaran suddenly could hear them comforting him.
“They said they were safe with Jesus,” he says. “They said,
‘Daddy, don’t cry. We are OK, Daddy.’”
That day, Paramesvaran says, he felt “enormous strength”
from God. He also began to feel a deep burden for the orphans in a nearby
A new burden
More than 60 children in the village lost their parents in
With no one responsible for them, they wandered from house
to house, relative to relative, begging for food and living under blue tarps as
“If we would have died,” Paramesvaran says, “I could have
seen my children in this group.”
The couple initially took four children into their home.
Over time the number has grown to 20 — six girls and 14 boys.
“(God said) you were a mother for three, but now you can be
a mother for so many,” says Choodamani, who has given birth to two sons —
Shemaiah, 2, and Micaiah, 1 — since losing her first three children.
“Without God we’d never (have) made it through this.”
The financial burden on the couple, however, took its toll
in the beginning.
Though Paramesvaran works for a gas company and Choodamani
is an accountant, they struggled to make ends meet.
They turned to Cole Elbridge*, an International Mission
Board (IMB) representative who was leading relief efforts along the coast.
Southern Baptists gave more than $17 million to help tsunami victims.
portion of those gifts, Elbridge was able to provide the couple with kitchen
appliances, beds, clothing, books and school supplies, in addition to meeting
other needs for the children. The funds also provided food, shelter, boats,
nets and supplies to the community.
Elbridge was there, thanks to Southern Baptists’ support of
the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for
“There were so many needs that Southern Baptists helped us
with,” Paramesvaran says. “Through that (support) we were able to spread the
gospel. Many people came to Christ.”
That support also allowed the orphaned children, all from
Hindu backgrounds, to hear about Jesus for the first time.
Today, all of them have a relationship with Christ. Some are
sharing the gospel alongside Paramesvaran in the community.
Healing in India
Residents along much of India’s eastern coast still have
scars and pain from that tragic December day.
A faint waterline is still visible around the perimeter of
the couple’s house.
Here and there, collapsed buildings block the beachfront.
rusty barge rests in the sand where the tsunami waves abandoned it.
There are now lakes and ponds where there were none.
While most of the wreckage and damage has been removed or
repaired, broken hearts aren’t as easy to mend.
But the love of Christ shown by Indian Christians such as
Paramesvaran and Choodamani has brought the Good News into areas that were once
unreceptive to Christians.
Since tsunami relief began in India and into Bangladesh,
more than 1,400 house churches have been planted, 12,000 people have accepted
Christ as their Lord and Savior and 4,000 have been baptized.
With training and support from Elbridge, Paramesvaran has
started two churches and vocational training centers in his community.
Paramesvaran and Choodamani can see God’s faithfulness
through all they have experienced.
Some have compared their story to that of Job — a man who
suffered great loss yet remained faithful to God.
“I read (in the Bible) that Job lost everything on the same
day,” Paramesvaran says. “I used to wonder how it was possible. Now I
understand that it is true because it happened to me.”
“When we think about our children, now, I can see the grace
of God,” he says.
“God has given us a second life.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the
International Mission Board. Hear more of Paramesvaran’s story at commissionstories.com/tsunami.)
Help tsunami victims
North Carolina Baptist Men has been sending teams to Sri
Lanka since the tsunami hit in 2004. The partnership continues and still has
needs to serve that hard-hit area.
Most teams go to build simple homes.
The basic cost (airfare, lodging, meals, in-country
transportation and insurance) is $2,100.
Teams should have at least five people but no more than 15,
and two members should have strong construction skills.
Visit www.baptistsonmission.org or contact (800) 395-5102,
ext. 5599, to find out specifics.
Baptist Men coordinates numerous other partnerships and