The following article, written and distributed by Baptist Press of the Southern Baptist Convention, accurately and succinctly portrays what many Grace Brethren leaders believe to be a proper and biblical perspective on the southeast Asia tsunami disasters. Along with the succeeding article on Grace Brethren tsunami response, you are encouraged to thoughtfully and prayerfully read this piece to understand better how God is shaping a response on the part of Relief Agency Brethren, Grace Brethren International Missions, and the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches leadership.
By Erich Bridges
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The mammoth earthquake that shook Asia Dec. 26 opened huge fissures on the Indian Ocean floor, scientists say, and changed underwater terrain far from the epicenter.
Along the region’s coastlines, the destruction and death caused by the quake and the tsunami waves it spawned are all too visible. The cataclysm also opened unseen cracks. Where? In a part of the “10/40 Window,” the wide geographical band from North Africa to Southeast Asia containing most of the people who have yet to hear the Gospel. Whether those cracks open further or close quickly will be determined by prayer — and the way Christians serve the survivors.
“There are few events that change the world in just a few minutes,” observes Asia-based mission researcher Justin Long.
“On Dec. 26th, a 9.0 earthquake changed the 10/40 Window in a matter of minutes. Islands shifted, whole towns were washed away, military bases were destroyed and major cities were heavily damaged.”
Christians are sending millions of dollars and many trained volunteers to save lives and ease suffering in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and other affected countries. They’ll do much more in the days to come.
Christian response should be threefold after such an event, Long says:
1) In the first weeks, pray — and send relief funds with first responders.
2) In the first months, respond through organizations with the training and “staying power” to overcome enormous logistical challenges. “Roads, phone networks, computers, power, water, medicines — everything has been destroyed,” Long says. “All of that needs to be brought in and provided not just for local people who are hurt but also the workers who are coming in to help them.”
3) In the first years, help survivors rebuild their homes, schools, cities and infrastructure. “It’s during this period that most everyone can have an impact of some kind,” Long notes. “Short-term teams can come to help rebuild. Doctors can come to help treat those with long-term disabilities. Even counselors and psychologists specializing in trauma disorders could have a role to play…. Begin praying now about what kind of role you and your church can have [for the long term]. That is when you will be needed most.”
Critics often accuse evangelicals of seizing on tragedies, wars and natural or man-made disasters to rush into places once off-limits to Christians. They don’t care about the victims’ physical needs or long-term welfare, the critics say; they just want to save souls and make converts.
That charge may stick to some tunnel-vision believers. Christians walking in the love of God, however, care about bodies and souls. They weep with those who weep, heal the sick, feed the hungry — and yes, look for opportunities to share the Good News of Christ wherever it hasn’t been heard.
Several of the world’s least-reached megapeoples — groups with more than 1 million people — live in areas devastated by the tsunamis. Hardest hit were Sumatra’s 3.5 million Aceh people — proud, independent, strongly Muslim, suspicious even of other Indonesians.
“They have a very strong ethnic identity,” says a Christian who used to work among them. “They’re very proud of their heritage.”
They have never willingly submitted to any outsider. They resisted Dutch colonial power during the 18th and 19th centuries longer than any other group in the region. For years a separatist movement in Aceh province has battled the Indonesian government while seeking an independent state under strict Islamic law.
More than 100,000 Aceh died in the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Many more are struggling to survive the grim aftermath.
“This is such a huge event that it will shape their collective cultural memory,” says the Christian. “They could become even more insular after this. Or, this may open them to other possibilities.”
Local Muslim imams and mosques have helped spearhead initial relief efforts in Aceh towns and villages. But some Muslim leaders in Aceh also have been telling their followers that the disaster is God’s judgment upon the unfaithful.
“God is angry with the Aceh people, because most of them do not do what is written in the Koran,” one imam told a Washington Post reporter covering the tsunami aftermath. “I hope this will lead all Muslims in Aceh to do what is in the Koran and its teachings. If we do so, God will be merciful and compassionate.”
Many people in the regions devastated by the tsunamis are asking questions about God’s judgment and mercy. One day after the earthquake struck, a Buddhist monk in India was talking to a Christian worker.
“Do you believe it was because of God’s judgment on the people that this great wave killed so many?” the monk asked. The Christian worker opened his Bible to the Gospel of John and told the monk about the time Jesus encountered a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Was it for his sins or the sins of his parents that this man was born blind?” Jesus refused to assign blame. Instead, he said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Then he healed the man.
Jesus, the worker told the monk, taught that “the most important response to a tragedy is not assigning blame, but offering help and healing.”
If that message is offered through loving service to the tsunami survivors in the weeks, months and years to come, this part of the 10/40 Window just might open wider.
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.