International News Releases

Brother of LHM employee caught in tsunami tragedy


Release No: 05-06
By Gerald Sonnenberg

Feb. 2, 05— ST. LOUIS, Mo.: When the tsunami struck, it hit close to home for Gunya Nathalang. As she watched the devastation on television, she saw that the hotel that her brother Somboon worked at in Phuket had been destroyed. She immediately tried to reach him by phone but could not … leaving her to assume the worst about his physical and eternal fate, for Somboon was Buddhist.

As the Asia Area Counselor for Lutheran Hour Ministries in St. Louis, Gunya knew she could not simply sit and wonder about the outcome. Instead, even in the midst of uncertainty, she returned to work at Lutheran Hour Ministries: to help minister to the many who had survived the tsunami. Even in the midst of their pain, Gunya, along with her sister Monta “Boom” Ekwanit, Director of LHM-Thailand, orchestrated a relief effort, including spiritual counseling, new bedding, and cookware for survivors.

It can be difficult to share the Gospel in the Thai culture. For many, life in Thailand – until now – has been relatively peaceful. Many are affluent and are proud of their freedom – not willing to align their allegiance with anyone.

But in the wake of the tsunami, many realized an emptiness beyond hunger or thirst. It’s an emptiness that the Buddhist faith – with its judgment through reincarnation – will not fill. You cannot earn your salvation when you are helpless. You cannot earn your salvation when you think you have it all.

As Gunya worked for the relief effort, she continued to wait anxiously to hear from her brother. She checked with her sister Boom often to find out if there was any news. As they talked on the phone, they began to cry, uncertain of what had happened to him. And then, the phone rang. It was Somboon.

“I am the luckiest person in the world,” he said, “I never take off any vacation days. But of all weekends—I took this one off and missed the tsunami.”

Gunya replied, “You aren’t lucky. You survived because God has a plan for your life and I know God has been faithful … He has answered my prayers.”

And through his conversation with Gunya, Somboon realized that his emptiness can be filled with Christ. Through their conversation, the Holy Spirit moved Somboon to open his heart to God. Please pray that many, just like Somboon, will know through this horrible tragedy that God offers a cleansing wave of saving grace: grace that isn’t earned, but freely given.

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