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Tsunami Report: Need For Thai Orphanages Urgent

Tsunami Report: Need For Thai Orphanages Urgent

By Richard S. Ehrlich

PHUKET, Thailand -- There is "a real need for orphanages" for Thai children who survived the tsunami, according to an executive director of an American-founded Christian group who helped set up churches in the stricken zone.

Thai children whose parents, siblings and other relatives were drowned or crushed by the tsunamis on Dec. 26 have been brought to hospitals, emergency shelters and into neighbors' care but will require long-term, secure upbringing.

"I think there will be a real need for orphanages in this region now," John Quinley, an executive director of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), which has offices in Lakeside, Montana, and throughout the world, said in an interview.

"Someone on our team has just been talking to a lady who has had quite a bit to do with seeing orphanages open in Asia. So I think there will be that need. It sounds very clearly that there will be."

Mr. Quinley, 47, is from the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area of Virginia and has been based in Thailand for the past 16 years.

In addition to relief and development programs, YWAM operates orphanages in Thailand which Americans and others can contact to adopt Thai children -- but not yet in the tsunami-hit zones, he said.

Americans and other foreigners seeking to adopt children orphaned by the tsunami "would have to do it with the Thai government. The Thai government has a very clear system set up about adoption," Mr. Quinley said.

That process may take months or years to arrange, however, because children coming into the care of Thai authorities must be checked to find if they have relatives in the immediate vicinity or in far-flung towns and villages.

After the tsunami hit the west coast, Mr. Quinley rushed from his office in Bangkok to Phuket because he was previously based in nearby Phang Nga, the province in Thailand hardest-hit by the giant waves.

"My family and I lived in Phang Nga for just about seven years, and all of my children grew up there." The Quinleys taught English and helped set up churches.

On Dec. 28, two days after the tsunamis, Mr. Quinley went to Phang Nga's main hospital and helped translate for 600 injured foreign patients, because most of the medical staff could not speak English and most of the victims could not speak Thai.

The foreigners were "vacationers from Khao Lak", a stretch of beach with resorts obliterated by the tidal waves.

Mr. Quinley then toured Phang Nga province to see what remained of an area he knew from better times.

He found destitution and agony.

"Dagua Ba is basically a slum that is on the water, in an inlet next to the Andaman Sea, and it has 5,000 to 7,000 residents. We went to see that slum," he said.

"It opens right up on the water [and] was completely destroyed, completely wiped out. All the houses were ripped to shreds.

"I met one lady there. I began to speak to her in Thai. She was sitting out in front of a house, the remnants of a house, that was completely devastated there.

"She said, 'My family is gone. My two girls, I've lost them. My husband is gone, my mother is gone and my sister is gone.'

"I was just struck in talking to her and I was about ready to cry. I said, 'I just want to tell you, I went to ask my family to pray for you, because you have just lost all of your family. And I believe, that even in the middle of all of this, God intends a future for you that is going to be much better."

Thailand's population is about 95 percent Buddhist, and only one percent Christian.

Phang Nga has three or four churches -- which apparently survived the tsunamis -- and "several hundred" Christians, he said.

"When we had first come in 1990, there were not any" churches in Phang Nga, Mr. Quinley said.

"We had been part of two of the churches starting, and are still very, very close with those people there."

Among the Thais in Phang Nga, "there were people that the churches had relationships with, that did die."

The future of Phang Nga's residents is now a major worry.

"Right now, everyone is focused on this region. But the Thai people who will continue to live here are going to have to make a life into next month, and into next year, and that life is going to be very challenging.

"We would just like to find ways to help them surmount those challenges," he said.

"I'm not a missionary. I'm an international development worker. It [YWAM] does include missionaries," he said.

"That mission would be to show the love of God," he said. "Youth With a Mission is an international non-denominational mission."

His group also contacted other Christian organizations about the tsunami's destruction.

"World Concern is one that is here, that we've been in contact with. Operation Blessing, which is part of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in Virginia Beach, is another group YWAM has contacted."

In the 1960s, American minister Loren Cunningham resigned from an evangelical denomination, the Assemblies of God, and founded YWAM, Mr. Quinley said.

In Thailand, "YWAM is doing many different things in many different places, from running orphanages to child sponsorship programs for education, right through to drug rehabilitation," he said.

"The Thai church as a whole is growing very much. There are many Thai churches spreading right around all of Thailand and it is growing...and mission input through the years has helped that."


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is

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