After the Managua Earthquake
WHEN serious disaster strikes, helpless victims are very much dependent upon aid from others. Concerned about the homeless, the injured and the hungry, many people willingly respond to the obvious appeal of distressed fellowmen. Jehovah’s Christian witnesses are no exception. They appreciate that assisting the afflicted is a part of true worship. (Jas. 1:27) Along with others, they work diligently to help those in dire need. The relief measures undertaken in behalf of earthquake victims in Nicaragua are an example of this.
As news of the terrible earthquake that recently devastated Managua, Nicaragua, reached neighboring countries, almost immediately Jehovah’s witnesses in those lands had efforts under way to help their Christian brothers and other deserving ones. Soon cars and trucks loaded with food and clothing were heading for the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Managua.
The Watch Tower Society’s branch in Managua had served as a center for directing the preaching activity of more than 1,800 Witnesses in Nicaragua. Happily the building had suffered only slight damage during the earthquake and hence food, clothing and other items could be received and distributed from there.
Less than twenty-two hours after the first shock, relief supplies arrived from Jehovah’s witnesses in Honduras. The next day, Sunday, L. E. Witherspoon, branch overseer in Nicaragua, called a meeting of missionaries serving in Managua to discuss relief distribution. Soon food, clothing and medicine began arriving from Jehovah’s witnesses in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Water was brought in by truck from areas around Managua. That day hundreds were given needed help.
On Monday, December 25, other depots were established to distribute relief supplies to earthquake victims, and on Tuesday still more of such depots were set up in other towns. By that time the greater portion of Managua’s population had left the city. Meanwhile tons of relief supplies had arrived from Jehovah’s witnesses in Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador, and more was on the way. Monetary help was also being received from Witnesses in other lands.
A missionary from Honduras writes of the relief measures: “The brothers here and the ones from Costa Rica and El Salvador have been taking in food supplies by the tons. Although our brothers are poor, they have given from their hearts.” She continues: “Tonight we spent the evening here in the branch [of the Watch Tower Society at Tegucigalpa] sacking potatoes, onions, and detergent into plastic bags for easy distribution.”
In Managua itself, especially in the downtown area, the stench of bodies was getting stronger. Fires were breaking out. And there was considerable looting. It was deemed advisable to evacuate the branch office of the Society. This move was undertaken on Wednesday, December 27.
The relief work that had been directed from the branch office then began to be carried out from a new location about thirteen miles south of Managua. There Jehovah’s witnesses set themselves to the task of making up food packages. Benches from the branch Kingdom Hall became worktables and storage shelves.
L. E. Witherspoon reports that the packages basically contained the following items: eight pounds of rice, four pounds of beans, one pound of cheese, one pound of lard, one pound of dried milk, three pounds of dry corn, a half pound of coffee, two pounds of sugar, a large tin of sardines, two candles, two boxes of matches, one bar of soap and one package of soup mix along with the latest issues of The Watchtower and Awake! The packages were made up in two sizes, one that could last a family of two to five for about five days, and another that could last a family of six to ten for the same period.
For many, leaving Managua meant a change in climate from hot to cool or even cold weather. So blankets were also supplied to those needing them.
On December 29 the relief work of Jehovah’s witnesses was explained to the entire office staff of the Red Cross. They were greatly impressed and kept repeating over and over again: “That is what we should be doing. That is how we should do it.” They were amazed to learn that Jehovah’s witnesses had fourteen relief distribution points around the outskirts of Managua and a list of the names of all families receiving assistance.
The director of the Red Cross, Mr. Reinaldo Tapia Molina, wrote out an order for 1,000 pounds of rice and 2,100 pounds of beans to assist Jehovah’s witnesses in their relief work. The next day governmental authorization was received for the release of the food requested in the order received from the Red Cross.
Later the Red Cross supplied about a ton and a half of food and ten tents. These tents were put to good use by those who had been sleeping out in the open. They were very much needed, as the dew had been so heavy that by the morning those sleeping under the stars had to wring out their sheets.
Since many of the missionaries of Jehovah’s witnesses serving in Nicaragua are North Americans, the help of the United States Embassy was sought. Through AID, an affiliate of Alliance for Progress, twenty tents as well as one hundred cots and blankets were received.
Also, the government of Nicaragua provided supplies that helped Jehovah’s witnesses to give individual aid to earthquake victims.
Of course, much has been contributed by Jehovah’s witnesses and their friends in Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere to assist with the relief work. This has been especially encouraging to those receiving help, as they are aware of the fact that many of their fellow believers in neighboring lands are quite poor.
Because of the aid received from various sources, each day Jehovah’s witnesses in Nicaragua have been distributing one half to three quarters of a ton of food. Several days a week more than a ton was distributed. As of January 10, 1973, enough food had been made available for 100,000 meals.
In addition to distributing much-needed food supplies, Jehovah’s witnesses in Nicaragua have also kept busy in bringing comfort from the Bible to those in distress. They feel as did the apostle Paul when he wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation through the comfort with which we ourselves are being comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4) They also rejoice in the fact that Jehovah God has motivated the hearts of their Christian brothers in other lands to respond quickly with assistance in their time of physical distress.