Robert J. Hawkins Jr., World Missions coordinator for The Church of God, may have thought about the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee,” when a major earthquake struck Nepal mid-day on Saturday, April 25.
Hawkins’ concerns were not from a distance, watching reports about the earthquake on television. His concerns were beneath his feet.[Brother Hawkins] was observing Bible training in the sanctuary of a church in Bharatpur, Nepal. He felt the shaking, and heard the rumblings and cries of the people.
“I first thought it was a truck coming down the road,” he said. “But, the earth continued to tremble. It shifted back and forth, like the rocking of a small boat.”
Hawkins said the shaking lasted only about 90 seconds. “We evacuated the church and went outside into a cleared area. Bharatpur is in a very rural area, and the damage was limited.” Asked what happened during the quake, and afterward, Hawkins said, “We held hands and prayed.”
He said the severity of the earthquake, which claimed more than 7,000 lives, was more evident as his group drove back into the main town, about 10 minutes away.
“The streets were filled with people, and we had messages on our phones that it had been a major earthquake.”
Hawkins said the people in Nepal were amazed as much as he and his team. “They told us they’d never experienced anything like this. They said the last large earthquake was more than 80 years before.”
Hawkins and his party stayed about a week, and experience a number of aftershocks. He said residents in the area did the wise thing.
“They moved into open areas (during the aftershocks), sleeping in the streets and fields.” [Bishop Hawkins] was in Nepal with Bishop Ray Dupre, field secretary to the General Overseer and the International Bible School Director.
They were joined by National Overseer of Nepal Chadalawada Paul Sudhakar, and Haroon Massey from Pakistan.
They were visiting with Christians in the Bharatpur congregation when the quake hit. Following the quake, the four officials of The Church of God, spent the next several days collecting information from surrounding church ministries. “We’ll make their needs known,” Hawkins said. “The Church is wanting to know what is needed.”
“We’ve always been able to respond, but I’ve never been in an earthquake before,” he said. Hawkins then touched on the seriousness of the event. “It was hard to believe it was happening, it was harrowing and our thoughts went to the Lord. We didn’t know if we were going to make it.” Hawkins said his wife, Malissa, handled the unknowns very well.
“She was concerned, of course, but felt it would be okay. She’s a very strong lady.”
During the days following the quake, Hawkins and his team received word that airports, railroads and highways were being closed.
“We were concerned that we might not be able to get back to Kathmandu, and might not be able to catch our flight out of Nepal,” he said.
Some people at the local airport stepped up to provide support.
“Although the airport was filled, they stepped into the next room and filled out our tickets,” he said. “As soon as the plane took off, I praised the Lord, with a big smile.”
Hawkins said it was the most dramatic event he has ever been involved with.
He was born in New York City, and grew up in South New Jersey. He became a Christian in 1989, and joined The Church of God in 1990. He was then called to the ministry and served at churches in Florida and Colorado.
Hawkins said he has a love for missions, from his first mission trip to Uganda in 1999. General Overseer Stephen Smith appointed Hawkins to his coordinator position in 2010.
He and his wife have been married for 20 years.
This article originally appeared in the Cleveland Daily Banner and was published on May 9, 2015..