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Couple befriend orphan after tsunami
Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press
December 23, 2009
8 MIN READ TIME

Couple befriend orphan after tsunami

Couple befriend orphan after tsunami
Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press
December 23, 2009

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

International Missions.

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.

BP photo

Paramesvaran lost his three children in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The wave lifted them off the ground and tossed them back

down.

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

history.

As the tsunami waters receded, Paramesvaran stumbled home in

shock.

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

Karunya, 9?

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.

They later

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.

The

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

your Jesus?”

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

for church.

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

village.

A new burden

More than 60 children in the village lost their parents in

the tsunami.

With no one responsible for them, they wandered from house

to house, relative to relative, begging for food and living under blue tarps as

temporary shelters.

“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.

From a

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

International Missions.

“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.

A

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.”

*Name changed.

(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

mission trips.

Related stories

Orphans gain a new family

Compassion stirs Hindus