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S. Asia Trip, Weblog Jan. 7-19 Probes Tsunami-Related Faith Qs

Visit daily beginning Jan. 7 for reports from Dr. Premawardhana and Mr. Isner, including audioclips and photos.

January 5, 2004, NEW YORK CITY -- How do survivors of December’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Southern Asia find meaning amidst that tragedy? What needs can the U.S. faith community meet - and how can the world’s current outpouring of concern be sustained after the television cameras leave?

These are among questions that the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, Interfaith Relations Director for the National Council of Churches USA, will be asking religious leaders and survivors during travels in Sri Lanka Jan. 7-13 and Sumatra, Indonesia, Jan. 14-19.

The December earthquake and tsunami left as many as five million people homeless in 12 nations of Southern Asia, and the United Nations estimated the death toll at 150,000 and still climbing. Torrential rains hampered relief efforts over the New Year's weekend, with safe drinking water and sanitation at a premium.

Leaving today (Jan. 5), Dr. Premawardhana of New York City, a native of Sri Lanka and former Chicago Alliance of Baptists pastor, will be accompanied by Vince Isner, a United Methodist of Fairfax, Va., Director of the NCC’s Web ministry,

They will seek to express the concern of the U.S. faith community for people of all religious communities in the affected region, including Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. Dr. Premawardhana has strong relationships with Christians and Buddhists in Sri Lanka, and U.S. Muslim colleagues have given him Muslim contacts in both Sri Lanka and Indonesia. already is engaged in the effort to provide relief to the stricken region by offering its members the opportunity to contribute toward the multi-faceted, ecumenical emergency response work of the international humanitarian agency Church World Service, a cooperative ministry of the NCC’s 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member churches. As of Jan. 5,, through its “Hands Across the Waters” campaign, had raised more than $60,000 for CWS, and fundraising efforts continue.

"We recognize that the rebuilding and healing in these countries will require more than food, water, and clothing," Mr. Isner said. "Joining hands across the waters between faith communities is vital to long-term recovery and healing. We already know from many of our e-mails that FaithfulAmerica members want to roll up their sleeves and get involved. We will do our best to make that happen.”

Communicating what they see and hear will be an important part of the trip for Dr. Premawardhana and Mr. Isner. They will be posting articles, audioclips and photos on a Web log -- -- and will return with video documenting their encounters and visits to affected areas.

“We particularly are interested in questions of faith,” Dr. Premawardhana said. “Every time I talk with anyone in Sri Lanka, people want to know, ‘Where is God?’ Ultimately the faith community will provide meaning for them.”

In their meetings with denominational and ecumenical leaders in Sri Lanka (especially the National Council of Churches in Sri Lanka) and Indonesia (especially the Communion of Churches in Indonesia), they will explore ways to keep the U.S. faith community engaged in long-term response. Among their ideas: work camps to rebuild schools and homes, and establishment of “sister cities” and “sister churches.”

Dr. Premawardhana also plans to touch base with friends and relatives in Sri Lanka. He said his brother, aunts, uncles and other relatives there all are safe, but that a close family friend was killed.

The friend, Tamara Mendis, 55, of Chicago, had gone to Sri Lanka to spend the Christmas holidays with her daughter, Eranthie Mendis, 25, who was spending a year in their native Sri Lanka after graduating from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Their husband/father, the Rev. Eardly Mendis, an Anglican, serves a Lutheran South Asian ministry in Chicago.

Tamara and Eranthie were on their way by train from Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo to the beach-resort town of Hikkaduwa when the tsunami hit. Tamara Mendis died when giant waves overturned the train into a marsh. Eranthie Mendis survived.

“Eranthie’s story is a powerful story of faith,” Dr. Premawardhana said. “After she was rescued, she tried to help rescue her mother, but by the time her mother was pulled out, it was too late. Eranthie prayed over her mother, offering her mother’s soul to God.”


Media Contact: Carol Fouke-Mpoyo, 212-870-2252 (

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