If you read the papers, you know the front pages have been singularly focused on reporting the catastrophic Asian tsunami and its aftermath. Experts are now saying we’ll be looking at over a quarter-million deaths when the rubble is cleared — maybe more. As natural disasters go, this easily surpasses the 1883 volcanic explosion of Krakatau; which killed at least 38,000 and the 1990 earthquake in Iran that killed more than 50,000 people. It’s an Unhappy New Year for millions around the world — and a distinct opportunity for people of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
First, we are joining with others and praying. The Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that prayer is not limited by time and space. All of us can be “on the ground” and involved in that region.
Second, we are joining with others and giving. Does it strike you as noteworthy that over 95% of the foreign aid is coming from countries of Judeo-Christian heritage — yet the 12 nations struck by the tsunami are overwhelmingly Muslim? Aid from oil-rich Middle Eastern countries has barely surpassed 1 million dollars in some cases.
Third, we are joining with others and volunteering. For example, the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware is sending teams over there to see if they need volunteers or financial support. Any church could put 3-4 members to work on finding out what other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are doing — not just giving money but also other resources like equipment, expertise, manpower, etc. We know of a young woman who is heading for Sumatra where they have a wide range of jobs that need to be done — fielding phone calls, translating for foreign relief workers, buying supplies in mass bulk quantities, driving people to and from the airport, packing boxes, and training people in crisis counseling.
The good news is that we’re bringing not just tangible goods but hope to devastated people. And that leads to the fourth opportunity for people of the Judeo-Christian faith. The ancient writer Peter urged us “to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15). Why not take 2 minutes this Sunday and offer an apologetic (a defense) for “why bad things happen” if God is “in charge?” Alert your worship team of the need (appropriateness) to select music that reflects Jesus as “a man acquainted with sorrows.” Make an exception to the sermon schedule and address the question of how God can be loving and powerful — yet allows this terrible tragedy to occur. Or, if you want to be truly provocative, ask “What does it take for God to get your attention?” He clearly has our attention now. What about “lesser” tragedies — such as ongoing genocide in the Sudan?
If you need help with this fourth opportunity, consider contacting TCI. In our work, we observe that faith is not generally understood as a coherent way to understand front page news. That’s regrettable and should be fixed. If you want to know how to talk coherently to your colleagues and friends about this catastrophe and God’s love, we can help. But first, be sure to pray, give, and, where you can, volunteer. True compassion, after all, is more than caring. True compassion is sharing in the suffering of others.