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    Missionary aids quake victims

    The young Ozona man says God called him to this epicenter of suffering.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


    Jeremy Bly's plane landed in India two days after a 7.9-magnitude temblor violently shook western Gujarat state, killing an estimated 20,000 people and flattening entire neighborhoods.

    The young man from Ozona had no idea what he had just gotten himself into, but whatever it was, God had called him to do it, he told his parents.

    Jeremy Bly, 20, is a missionary student who had traveled to India to connect with Iranian college friends he met last year during a two-month stay in Pune, outside Bombay. It was to be a short stop on his way to a nine-month Bible study school in Singapore, where classes are to begin in March.

    Soon after he arrived, he began to hear stories about the earthquake, the damage that was done, the lives lost, the rescue effort under way. Bly, a member of Palm Harbor Community Church and the Youth With a Mission group, asked if he could travel the 400 or so miles from where he was based to an area near the quake's epicenter.

    At least 60 other young people in Bly's group asked to go. He was one of only two or three selected to make the trip. Leaders wanted to make sure he and the others had the stamina and mental fortitude to endure what they would see.

    Before he left, Bly e-mailed his parents, Bill and Diane Bly, at their Ozona home, and his pastor, the Rev. Warren Wetherbee, at Palm Harbor Community Church. In his message, he wrote that he was going to the disaster site to hand out medical supplies and tents to survivors.

    "He said to pray for him," said Bill Bly. "It will take three days to get there. The dangers they could face are armed robbers, Hindu fundamentalists who can be antagonistic toward Christians, and the possibility of disease."

    His mother was "less than thrilled" and very worried about the side trip, according to Bill Bly, especially since Jeremy Bly got sick last year in India and had to spend a few days in a hospital there.

    "She's had an emotional few days," he said.

    Bill Bly said he's proud of his son, whom he describes as "a bright, rough and tumble guy, an adventurer."

    Jeremy Bly was born in Australia, his mother's native country. Bill and Diane Bly had met while Bill was a street missionary based in Amsterdam in 1974 through 1976, and she was traveling the country with a friend. She became a Christian after they met.

    Bill Bly is a painting contractor, and frequently employs his son, a student at St. Petersburg Junior College, to help out, calling him "my right-hand painter," said Bly.

    Wetherbee, Jeremy Bly's pastor, said the young man is Palm Harbor Community Church's first missionary.

    "He's a real free spirit," Wetherbee said. "It's all wrapped up in what God wants him to do. It's unusual for a young man to take the time and try and hear God."

    The church's congregation raised more than $6,000, not including private donations, so Jeremy Bly could make the trip to India and Singapore. They never dreamed their donations would help victims of a natural disaster.

    On Feb. 20, the Bly family will begin checking for messages from Jeremy Bly, who is scheduled to return to his base in India around that date.

    His father said psychologists will be there to greet him and help him deal with any emotional trauma he may suffer.

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