Christian groups in China are continuing to provide assistance to vulnerable communities devastated by the earthquake that struck the country's Sichuan Province on May 12, amid fears of impending disease outbreaks and the looming rainy season.
The official China news agency Xinhua reported that as of noon on May 26 the death toll from the quake rose to 65,080 nationwide, while 360,058 people were injured and 23,150 people were missing.
The China-based Amity Foundation, a member of the Geneva-based Action by Churches Together (ACT) International response group, reported it was prioritizing relief aid for rural communities, as many people who were able to evacuate to urban areas generally have better access to assistance.
"Amity plans to provide 16,000 of the most vulnerable people with food support to sustain them through the immediate shortage," ACT said in a statement released in Geneva.
The leadership of China Christian Council, the officially sanctioned grouping of Protestant Christians, joined the whole country on May 19 in a three-minute silence to mourn the dead. The council also launched a prayer corner at its website to allow people to post prayers for the victims and their families.
In Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, Protestant churches have organized prayer meetings and fundraising campaigns. Church buildings had been opened to house homeless people near the earthquake epicenter.
In Hong Kong, Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen praised the effectiveness and transparency of the relief operations of the Chinese government.
Xinhua reported that as of May 26, 182 aftershocks measuring above 4 on the Richter scale had been monitored in Sichuan and among them, 28 aftershocks measured above magnitude 5, and five above magnitude 6.
In Mianzhu County, almost 5,000 people who survived the quake were living in a local stadium, ACT reported. Many people have been injured, have been left without work and are in need of psychosocial care. Amity has dispatched a volunteer team of trauma counselors and social workers to the area to address the emotional and mental health needs.
Amity says that following the initial crisis phase, it will assist in rebuilding communities, including 600 homes, 10 schools and 5 clinics. Other rehabilitation assistance will target destroyed or severely damaged water and irrigation systems.
Amity works in close coordination with local government authorities. To ensure the smooth implementation of the projects, Amity has also set up a coordination team, which includes Amity staff, local partner staff and members of local Christian councils.
In Geneva, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, praised the relief efforts of the Amity Foundation and of the WCC-backed ACT.
Kobia said in a May 21 letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao that the WCC was "committed to join hands with the people of China in their efforts to reduce and alleviate the sufferings of the affected victims in the Sichuan Province."