I was going to follow the previous two posts with a reflection on the Bible as the Word of God (what kind of "word" or "words" is it? Etc). But through last week a terrifying cyclone barrelled through the upper North Island causing devastation to land and buildings, resulting in loss of life. So far, at the time of writing, 11 deaths have been reported, but many people are so far "uncontactable". It is feared that, even when communications are restored and many currently who are beyond contact will be contacted, nevertheless there will be many more deaths reported.
An initiative within our church so that we have an "all of church" response is described as follows:
"Drawing on the strengths of our Church we have established a new group named Hāpaitia: The Anglican Cyclone Gabrielle Response Group. The title Hāpaitia means to lift up, to support, to share a burden.
Hāpaitia will commit to whakamana* communities so that they in turn can uplift ‘Te Oranga Ake’ – that is, help rebuild flourishing whānau, communities and environments.
Hāpaitia will focus on four key areas:
– providing support for Wairua (spiritual, pastoral and theological support),
– Tinana (care for physical and
– Pūtea (financial aid) and
– Kōrero (communications and storytelling).
This pledge stands not only for the following days and weeks, but throughout the journey to recovery.
In a first step toward practical support, the Anglican Church’s St John’s College Trustees confirmed today they will release $250,000 in emergency funds for immediate deployment on Cyclone Gabrielle response.
Anglican aid and development staff will help coordinate the Church’s financial and operational response to Cyclone Gabrielle as part of the wider Hāpaitia response.
The Anglican Church has launched a Cyclone Gabrielle Emergency Appeal, hosted by Anglican Missions to support communities most affected by this week’s disaster.
Visit Anglican Missions to donate to the Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal.
*Whakamana: to acknowledge, uplift, maintain and restore the mana and tapu of others.”"
I have been invited to be part of this reponse because of the experience of the Diocese of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. This post and any subsequent ones on the matter is a contribution to the Wairua part of the response. Your comments will be helpful feedback in the development of my contribution. Thank you in advance!
(Finally, as we face our own natural disaster, we continue to remember the people of Turkey and Syria following the destructuve earthquakes there. And we continue to pray for peace in Ukraine.)
I understand the offering of theological reflection in such a time of disaster as this as offering at least two things.
First (meaning foremost), offering theological support to those who bear the burden of care at the frontline of response to the disaster.
Secondly, offering theological insights which may assist those at the frontline, or further back, to have confidence to respond to inevitable questions about how and why a good, kind, loving God presides over a world capable of unleashing such death and desolation on human society. This response may be needed immediately, because such questions may already be on the lips of the devastated. Almost certainly this reponse will be needed in due course because such questions arise for pretty much everyone who thinks about the world in relation to the possibility there is a God and this God is not immune to the prayers and praises of the people he has made. The story of Job is a salutary reminder of the folly of rushing in to offer explanations for suffering. It is also a story, when we reach its end, nevertheless, of the importance of embracing the problem of suffering, not avoiding it and pressing through to a response to the problem even if the response does not look like a comforting solution.
In this post I will attempt to focus on the first matter and leave the second matter to another post.
Jesus does not ask his disciples to be heroes. He asks his disciples to be faithful in small things (see Parable of Talents, Matthew 25:14-30), which may be as small a matter as giving a cup of water (Matthew 10:42) or giving away some clothing or food or drink or visiting someone in prison (see Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46). As the ennormity of the challenge the cyclone's devastation is revealed the temptation to be overwhelmed (It is so big we cannot do anything) or to be heroic (If I work like a superwoman or superman then I can solve the problem) can be resisted in favour of resolving to be available to serve, to encourage others to serve, and so together to make a response which makes a meaningful difference to the situation.
A focus on service, on achieving small tasks, in other words is fine. In the aftermath of a disaster, after initial adrenalin boosted responses, there is a need for stamina, for steadily working through each day and for days, weeks, months and even years afterwards. Through a long haul, rest and recreation remains important. The people who need us this week will also need us to help next month and even next year. This wisdom was underlined for all of us in Christchurch/Canterbury after the 2010/2011 quakes.
In turn, such considerations raise questions about what will keep our own spirits up, beyond ensuring a steady approach with appropriate rest. As part of a persistent, day to day, longhaul response, prayer and Bible reading, praying the Daily Office, gathering for acts of worship and communion will be vital for our spirits. Communing with God and with others is important when times are tough as well as when everything is trucking along fine. Apart from me, Jesus says, you can do nothing (John 15:5)
Of course, for many of us faraway, who should resist the temption simply to turn up to help unless we are invited to do so, there are two important things we can do to support those on the frontline: to pray and to give (preferably money since locals will know their needs better than we do). Day by day and Sunday by Sunday we will be a praying church, uplifting before God the needs of our sisters and brothers, especially in the territories we Anglicans know as Te Hui Amorangi o Tairawhiti (++Don Tamihere) and the Diocese of Waiapu (+Andrew Hedge).
"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26)
In this way, finally, we underline the importance of working collaboratively. Both locally as people, say, visit homes in pairs, or tackle a cleaning up task with a team so that mountain becomes a molehill, and from one territory to another as we pray and give, we can be a fellowship of Christians. One of the great themes in Paul's writings to the early churches is local fellowship - how members of a congregation love one another - which is also fellowship across the Mediterranean world - how love for one another means taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).
"Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:13)