A hydroelectric dam in Southeast Laos collapsed on 23 July 2018, leading to widespread destruction and displacement of villagers throughout the province of Attapeu. In the days following the disaster, more than 3,000 Lao people clung from trees and rooftops as they awaited rescue. At least 31 died and scores are unaccounted for. Hundreds of homes were washed away in one of Laos’ poorest areas. Relief efforts continue to be hampered by heavy rains, washed-out bridges and impassable roads.
On 10 Sep 2018, Pastor J and I flew to Pakse, a small city located about 700km south of Vientiane. Our mission was to scout out traversable routes into the flooded areas and source for food and emergency supplies needed by those who had been left homeless.
During our flight, two Chinese nationals seated across the aisle from us overhead our conversation and asked if we were Lao government officials. When we told them we were from the Church in Laos and Singapore, one of them shared that he had lived in Singapore many years ago. They were keen to hear about our plans for crisis relief work, and even expressed a desire to make a small donation.
After our plane had landed, one of the Chinese gentlemen reached into his luggage. I was dumbfounded when he passed me US$1,000 (S$1,385) for our relief work. Praise God for this extraordinary act of kindness!
In Pakse, we were met by another local LEC pastor, who briefed us on the conditions and arranged transport for us the next day. We started the next leg of our journey before dawn and finally arrived in Attapeu town where we were able to buy food and supplies. Following the advice of the local pastor, we loaded our small truck with a hundred 10-kg packets of glutinous rice and basic necessities like torchlights, crockery and knives.
We then headed to a refugee camp at Sanamxay that had been set up to house families from villages that had been completely destroyed by flood waters and mudslides. Most had been rescued or escaped with only the clothes on their backs. Our trip to the camp, which normally took 45 minutes, took more than two hours because heavy rains had turned the badly-damaged roads into a slippery, deeply-rutted quagmire.
When we finally arrived at Sanamxay, we were as happy as the people who poured from their tents to greet us! While they were grateful for the white rice supplied by other international relief agencies, they were overjoyed to receive the tasty glutinous rice.
The flood victims were glad to be alive but after more than a month in cramped makeshift shelters, many were beginning to suffer from headaches and skin diseases. They are not accustomed to eating instant noodles and canned food such as sardines and processed meats. Many were sleep-deprived because of the noise from living in close quarters with so many others.
They requested for fishing equipment and more torchlights so that they could go into the jungle to trap frogs, fish and animals. They wanted to be able to catch their own food and live simply in the jungle.
On our return trip from Sanamxay, the Lord’s hand of mercy kept us from harm—not once, but twice.
On a slippery and muddy stretch of the road, a huge truck laden with supplies was travelling in the opposite direction from ours when a dog dashed across the road. The truck driver intuitively swerved into our path to avoid hitting the dog. I was sure we were going to be hit, but he managed to avoid a head-on collision. As we continued our journey to Pakse airport, three fat ducks suddenly waddled into the path of our truck. Our driver swerved and as our vehicle began to slide, he jammed on the gas pedal to restore control. I heard three thuds from under our truck. I cringed, but whispered, “Thank you, God, for keeping us safe.”
Due to the poor road conditions and two close shaves, we arrived at Pakse airport with only 15 minutes to spare before the flight had been scheduled to take off. We jumped out of the truck and ran to the check-in counter…but no staff were around. When we looked out onto the tarmac, we saw the last few passengers boarding our plane. We managed to rush to the glass door that led out to the tarmac without being stopped by security officers. Thankfully, the ground staff noticed Pastor J and me, and returned to process our boarding passes.
Working alongside local pastors throughout this relief effort has helped the Christian Church gain credibility and trust from village chiefs and government officials. Together, we are able to share God’s love and mercy to those in greatest need.
David Khew is on staff with the Methodist Missions Society (MMS) and supports the ministry in Thailand and Laos as Country Coordinating Officer. He worships at Grace Methodist Church.
Photos courtesy of the Methodist Missions Society