“God is angry and far away”
“God is unable or unwilling to help us.”
“It is the fault of the Christians because they refuse to worship our gods.”
“Shiva, the god of destruction, is unhappy and must be appeased.”
These are the comments we heard over and over again in Nepal, as people try to make sense of the most destructive earthquake(s) in eighty years. Nearly 9,000 people were killed and 23,000 more were seriously injured in the April disaster.
Recently, Mark and I traveled to Kathmandu to visit some cross-cultural workers who live there. We were also connected with two local church leaders who invited us to facilitate two, one-day Trauma Healing sessions for local pastors and their wives. Many of them were directly affected by the earthquake and desperately asking the question “How do we help others when we ourselves are hurting so much?” They traveled in from villages for the teaching. And as we learned their stories, we were humbled in their presence. Because the largest quake happened on a church day, most of them were with their congregations. It lasted for almost two minutes -but felt like an eternity. As one pastor stepped outside the church door in his village, the roof and walls collapsed behind him, killing 73 parishioners. Another pastor lost his wife and all of his children. Still another church lost 19 members, including their pastor, whose son then stepped up to lead and came for the Trauma Healing session so that he could learn how to help himself and the hurting congregation. I also met Rosaline, the young wife of our translator who suffered a stroke during the earthquake. She spent a week in the hospital and now experiences severe memory loss. “It is very difficult on the days when she is confused and cannot remember me,” her husband told us sadly.
Mark spoke first, addressing the impossible question “If God loves me, why do I suffer?”, focusing on the story of Job. He asked about cultural beliefs around them. The participants were able to share about the persecution they often face as Christians, particularly in the wake of the disaster. Though local churches are often the first to bring in aid and relief, they are also accused of angering the god Shiva and causing the earthquake. So on top of their own suffering, they are facing increased persecution in some areas.
“The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; He saves those who have lost all hope.” Psalm 34:18
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger…No. Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, Who loves us.” Romans 8:35-39
We were then able to touch on other topics like How to Help Someone With a Heart Wound (aka Trauma), Caring for the Caregiver (which the Pastors and wives all appreciated, since they are caring for so many people in their families and villages now), and How to Help Children with Heart Wounds. We also talked about the Journey of Grief and, finally, how important it is to bring our pain to Christ for true healing. In the end, we encouraged them to participate in the full five-day Trauma Healing Equipping session their leaders are planning for August. The pastors are eager to receive the training in order to more fully help people in their villages. One way for believers in Nepal to reach out to their communities in the days ahead is by becoming trained, compassionate lay-people, able to minister to others. This is the time when the words of Scripture can bring powerful reassurance, healing, and salvation. The local church must be empowered and equipped to respond with Truth and Love to a hurting population.
As the monsoon rains approach, everyone is aware of the potential for future danger in the form of mud and landslides. Many of the church leaders are now struggling against weariness and despair as they absorb the emotional pain around them while at the same time trying to organize physical relief in the form of food and tents for their villages. Their heroic efforts were initially spurred on by compassionate resolve and adrenalin, but now the full weight of the disaster is hitting home. Please pray for them.
At the end of the last day’s session, I gathered my bag and books and turned to go, thinking wearily about the long plane ride ahead of us. I looked up to find two women standing politely in front of me, one with palms together, head bowed slightly. She smiled and gave the greeting “Namaste”. I greeted her back. Then she said in broken English “I am Sinhg and this is my sister Angelique. We came by and heard you speaking. I needed to hear these things. Thank you so much…My sister is troubled.” At this, Angelique held out her hands to me, took my hands and placed them on her head and said “Pray me. Pray me.” Her eyes looked into mine but they seemed empty and sad. Sinhg explained, “She cannot sleep since the earthquake. Her mind affected badly. Please, she wants you to pray for her.”
So we prayed.
Everything in me felt broken and and small and utterly helpless…
And yet, I know the One who loves Angelique. And loves her still.
And where there is Love, there is Hope.