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The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

John Tesh, Connie Sellecca talk with Gordon Robertson by satellite
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Notable Quote

"There's no limit to the amount of prayer needed here. Operation Blessing is going to be here for a very long time. They are in here for the long run. That is one of the cries from the people that I found was, don't forget us. They have a long road ahead of them. It is don't forget us."

-- Connie Sellecca

operation blessing

John Tesh and Family Comfort Sri Lankan Victims The island nation of Sri Lanka was one of the hardest hit by the Asian tsunami. As many as 37,000 people died there. More than a half-million were injured, and five million people need help rebuilding their lives. Relief workers who have been to Sri Lanka said even the shocking TV images could not prepare them for the devastation they encountered. John Tesh and Connie Sellecca have joined us by satellite for a first-hand look at this tragedy, and what Operation Blessing is doing to help the victims in Sri Lanka.

GORDON ROBERTSON: John and Connie, welcome to The 700 Club.


ROBERTSON: What is it like there? I just can't imagine personally seeing, smelling and touching the devastation.

SELLECCA: It's very, very hard to imagine. The pictures that we saw before we got down here didn't even touch the reality of what it is like being here. There was an interesting thing. We can be right on the beach with all the devastation, looking out at the sea, and still not be able to imagine what it was like when the wall of water actually came up . Any time they try to describe it to us, I am so touched by how high they look in the air, when they explain it with their hands -- and they go so high. Being here in the district where we came from, it is just impossible to imagine what that was like.

ROBERTSON: Connie, what is it like for the women there? I am reading Internet reports saying that they are particularly hard hit. What are you experiencing with them?

SELLECCA: Well, I could only try to comfort the women that I came face-to-face with. I was really moved by how much they wanted to talk, how much they needed to be comforted, and how happy they were that we were there - the few that I was able to relate to one-on-one - and fortunately, with the help of a translator. But the pain is in their eyes and the appreciation is in their eyes. I just -- I could only give hugs and comfort. We're here with Operation Blessing to help distribute medicine, and comfort, and to show them there are people all over the world that really, really care about them.

ROBERTSON: John, you came up with an incredible idea of having people talk about their nightmare and then draw a picture of it, in order to, in essence, try to get it out of their system. What made you think of that?

TESH: Well, actually, the idea that I had was that maybe we would get the kids to create artwork, and then we would see what was on their minds. Bill Horan, whom you know, of course, is the president and CEO of Operation Blessing -- and I were shocked when Connie said, “Let's have them draw the tsunami.” We thought, ‘Whoa, hang on a second, are you sure we should do this?’ And we deferred to the mother and the women. I am talking about some of the most stunning pictures you have ever seen. There are about a hundred of these pictures created by kids, about elementary school age.

John Tesh and Connie Sellecca offer hope to the people of Colombo, Sri LankaSELLECCA: Right, all of them were about elementary school age. You can see in the pictures they drew, the horror on the faces of people struggling to survive. You can see the other people trying to climb on top of the homes. Of course, everything is under water. The trees are under water. One of the things that happened when we distributed the paper and crayons, was they were fighting over the blue crayon. Everyone wanted to start with the blue, and that was the water. [One drawing, in particular] shows the trees under water, and the struggle and the trauma. I was really moved by this one.

TESH: What you have to understand is, while this was happening, the kids were laughing and giggling. It was an amazing time, and they were actually competing – they wanted to see who won. They wanted to see who had the great masterpiece.

SELLECCA: But they were hungry for an outlet. That’s what we noticed. The particular refugee camp we were in, they were hungry for play, they were hungry for any kind of normalcy.

TESH: That’s really where our kids came in - Gib, 23, and Prima, 10.

SELLECCA: They were relating to the kids. All of the boys just followed Gib, and the girls just wanted to be around Prima. There was no language barrier when it came to kids, and when it came to play. Of course, with the art therapy, there was no language barrier, either. As soon as they saw the paper and crayons coming, we couldn't get it out fast enough. And we told them to draw about the tsunami.

ROBERTSON: I have been watching some of your interviews on some of the news networks. It seems that one of the number one questions you get asked is, why did you bring your children to a scene of devastation like this? But it is turning out that they are actually being a tremendous blessing for the people. What, particularly with Prima, what has been her reaction to all of this?

TESH: Well, first of all, the reason I am laughing is because the questions I always get, are, ‘What were you thinking?’ And I know it was a big leap of faith for Connie to say, okay, we are bringing the kids. But I will have her describe what Prima’s reaction was.

SELLECCA: First of all, for me, it is really hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, and for me, this trip was a step out of my comfort zone. Even just for me. When it came to bringing the children, of course, John asked Gib, our 23-year-old, and he immediately said, ‘Yes, what time do we leave? I am there.’ Prima had the same reaction; she wanted to come. But as talk [was heard] about the danger, and the tsunami, and what might happen again -- as we came closer to the hour we were leaving, I saw hesitation. And I went to her, and I said, 'It is up to you. It is your decision, you can stay with a friend or you can come.’ She said, 'No, I want to be with you.’ We had said, it was either all of us or none of us.

TESH: I’ll tell you, if Prima and Gib hadn't come, it would have been a much different experience. And Bill Horan was saying to us, we have the medical and food and shelter, but we didn't think about this -- the fact that the mothers needed to cry with Connie, the little boys needed to follow around ‘pied piper’ Gib, and the girls needed to learn new dance steps and be comforted by our 10-year-old.

ROBERTSON: What’s been your reaction? I’ve traveled with Americans into hard-hit areas and if you are not used to it, there are usually two reactions. One is, when is the next plane leaving, and second, what can I do to help? What was your initial reaction when you saw what happened here?

SELLECCA: My initial reaction was, I was so moved by the fact that people were smiling. That was my initial reaction. Why is it so easy to get them to smile? And there were those who still have a veil of sadness on their face. And just touching them gets them to talk. It is so easy to get the people to smile. I figured out, and I am not trained, and I am imagining that these people are still in so much shock -- but it is a way of surviving. It is a survival instinct to get normal as quickly as possible. But then there are the stories that we are seeing -- this traumatized 18-year-old girl sitting in a corner who just is afraid of everything right now, and is in desperate need of psychological help. It is coming. Operation Blessing knows that this help is needed and they are going to provide it. So there are those stories, and also the miracle stories of what was called ‘the coconut baby.’ A little baby who was hanging on a coconut tree for five hours, and the mom thought her baby was dead. A three-month-old baby. They call her ‘the coconut baby.’ So there are the miracle stores and then there are the horror stories.

ROBERTSON: What has this done for your faith? Where do you come to a place of faith in the midst of this kind of tragedy?

TESH: You know, you have to be – and that is a great question and this is a question raised on newscasts recently -- you have to be very careful. We are Christians and we love to live out of James 2:17. Which is, faith without works is dead, it is useless. However, when you come in here -- and moments before we came on the air here, there was the Muslim prayer. When you come into a community and area that is only eight percent Christian, you don't put up Scripture, hand out tracts, and try to convert people. This is what we love about the mission of Operation Blessing. We are here to live our faith, but we are here to bless people with service.

SELLECCA: We wanted to touch them with our action.

TESH: We saw it coming later – we saw the kids going, 'Why are here? What are you doing?’ Well, it’s what we believe. So we love the mission and the message of OB.

SELLECCA: We feel really blessed to have been asked to come here, and we feel blessed to have the opportunity for our family to be able to look into the eyes of these people, and in some way help, in some way comfort.

TESH: We got more out of this than they did.

SELLECCA: That’s true. We got more out of this as a family, than we were able to give to the people.

ROBERTSON: John and Connie, for the people watching us right now, obviously they all can't go to Sri Lanka or Sumatra. What can they do to be of help and assistance to the people suffering there?

SELLECCA: Well, they can pray. There's no limit to the amount of prayer needed here. Operation Blessing is going to be here for a very long time. They are in here for the long run. That is one of the cries from the people that I found was, don't forget us. They have a long road ahead of them. It is don't forget us. And there is a political divide, and the towns that Operation Blessing is touching are the towns that are not -- relief is not getting to them from the government. Operation Blessing has found those little fishing towns. They don’t want to be forgotten. They know they will not be getting what other towns are getting from the government.

TESH: The other part of it is, get involved. Don't just be watching this and say, ‘Oh, my gosh. Look at all the smiling kids.’ Those kids are smiling because they know there is hope and OB is there. But anybody can send in an envelope full of cash or a check, or go online and donate. The reason we support OB, is the fact that we searched this. Gib went online for days, and searched out and checked out OB. And we know that they are the number two faith-based organization – of almost 500. So we know that 100 percent of the money that people are donating goes directly to those areas that we were in. So it is a great way to get involved. You have to do it with donations. You can't send blankets or -- we saw piles and piles of donated clothing they can't use, because it is not part of their culture. And you can’t send over expired antibiotics. You have to buy the stuff here. That improves the culture. And that is what OB is doing.

SELLECCA: That improves the economy -- to get the money back into the economy. They buy the supplies right here, next door, and bring it into the villages that need it and don't have it.

ROBERTSON: Thank you so much. We are out of time. Thank you for your work with Operation Blessing, and being with us on The 700 Club. Safe journey.

SELLECCA:: Thank you.

TESH: Our pleasure.

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