All Posts Tagged ‘earthquake

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Burma quake suffering

Burmese woman sitting in the rubble of an earthquake damaged house

Yet does not one in a heap of ruins stretch out his hand,
and in his disaster cry for help?
Did not I weep for him whose day was hard?
Was not my soul grieved for the needy?
(Job 30:24-25 ESV)

I’m sure I’d be stretching out my hand for help if my house collapsed in an earthquake. It is natural to cry for help when disaster strikes. But do we weep for those whose days are hard? Is my soul grieved for the needy?

Before you answer those questions, here is another one to consider – are we obliged to care for all of the needy?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of what the scriptural rule would be, but my gut feeling is that we are obliged to meet the needs of the people we encounter in real life when we have the means to do so (James 2:15-16 and 1 John 4:20-21). I think this is important to be mindful of in these days when we have purposefully heart-wrenching footage of disasters from around the world shoved in our faces daily. For most of human history the only disasters a person would be aware of were those occurring within a maximum of a 100 mile radius of home. Now we have evocative news of worldwide disasters continually before us.

So what to do? It would be naive and selfish to turn a blind eye to the truth of all the suffering in this world. Yet there is also no point in feeling condemned for all the unmet needs out there.

An approach which I am taking is to focus in on the issues facing one group of people. Ever since participating in the month of prayer for the Shan people of Burma in October 2010, I have not been able to ignore the needs and suffering of these people. So I avidly monitor news from Burma and continue to pray for them. Some of that news is from Vision Beyond Borders who recently sent a team into the area affected by the recent 6.8 magnitude earthquake on 24 March:

We are in Yangon, everything was safely delivered through Customs and is being shipped north to the earthquake affected areas. It seems the government has offered very little help. We are hearing that the villages in the mountains were affected the most. The people are very fearful as the tremors have not stopped. The people who live in brick and concrete houses are afraid to stay in their houses for fear that they will collapse on them.

One of Pat’s contacts here is seeing if he can get permission for us to travel up north to where the earthquake was, but that is also where the genocide is occurring and hence it is a lot harder to get to. The government doesn’t want anybody to find out about the earthquake or any outside help to come in. We were looking at some pics of the devastation and there are some cracks that are about two feet wide and twenty feet deep; looks pretty bad. Just heard this morning that there are still tremors going on!

News from Vision Beyond Borders, Saturday, 23 Apr 2011 (www.visionbeyondborders.org)

Prayer requests

Please continue to pray for the nation of Burma as they recover from the earthquake. Pray God will protect the people, and they will be able to find adequate shelter and food until their homes are able to be rebuilt. Please pray for the children who lived in the Children’s Home that was destroyed, and pray all will be protected from the upcoming monsoon rains. (www.visionforburma.com)

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Why did God shake the wrong people?

I knew it would happen, I don’t know why I feel so angry about it and want to cry… but I do. As soon as I read about the magnitude 6.8 earthquake in eastern Shan State, Burma last Thursday, I was anxious that there would be a repeat of the callousness of May 2008 after cyclone Nargis. (See YouTube video of earthquake damage here).

The ruling military junta of Burma has been systematically committing genocide against ethnic minorities in Burma for decades, outside media are tightly controlled or excluded altogether and so little is spent on infrastructure that natural disasters become another mechanism by which the military can eliminate those who are not Burman.

So what is happening in eastern Shan State for those affected by the quake? Official Myanmar media is singing the praises of the military and police relief efforts. Other, more truthful, sources are publishing reports of cover-ups, propaganda and incompetence:

On Saturday reporters from The Irrawaddy visited the Tachilek Hospital and saw it was overwhelmed by hundreds of earthquake victims, many of them forced to stay out in the open air. Hospital staff estimated at the time that about 700 patients were being treated.

Reporters from The Irrawaddy returned to the hospital on Sunday, but saw no patients outside of the hospital and only normal patients inside in numbers that totalled much fewer than than the day before.

When asked where the other patients went, hospital staff and patients said they were “sent away” by the local authorities.

In another report The Irrawaddy states that residents of Tachileik took their own limited supplies of bottled water and instant noodles to earthquake affected areas only to be prevented from assisting by local authorities and the supplies were seized, then military generals were photographed handing the confiscated donations to victims.

Despite the 73 to 75 deaths being officially stated by the Myanmar government, reliable aid agencies have reported at least 150 dead, and it seems that reports of 300 dead are likely to be true. Some aid has been accepted from international sources, but under close control of the military.

And while earthquakes are currently hot news, a bigger loss of life has already occurred in the Andaman sea where an estimated 7000 fishermen were lost in a storm two weeks ago (14–16 March). Of those, 3,374 have been rescued but the remaining fishermen are still missing, presumed drowned. Again, if this had occurred in another nation the world would be watching on their TVs and assistance sent. Admittedly the Burmese navy has been a significant part of the rescue effort, but open reporting of the tragedy is still being suppressed.

So my question remains, did God shake up the wrong people? Why are the poor and persecuted suffering from natural disasters while those who grind their faces in the dirt are still enjoying their expensive lifestyles?

The LORD has taken his place to contend;
he stands to judge peoples.
The LORD will enter into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?”
declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
(Isaiah 3:13–15 ESV)

Have you ever said, even in jest, “If I ruled the world things would be different!”? I certainly have, and no doubt my children can vouch that it is a very good thing that I do not rule the world. We know Job’s response when God did answer his persistent why? (Job 40:3-5). Even so, I find an anger like that of Jonah (Jonah 4:9–11) rising in me as I learn about the injustice and blatant evil being committed by the Burmese military dictatorship. God saved the Ninevites whom He had pity on, I’m impatiently waiting in my impotent anger for Him to save the ethnic people of Burma.

… if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
(Hebrews 12:25–26 ESV)


Image of injured man in front of ruined building: The Irrawaddy

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Please explain

I’m not quite sure where to start, I have things to do, stuff to read, prayers to pray and blog posts to write… Meanwhile Japan is deeply grieving a major catastrophe and fearful of a potential nuclear disaster on top of that. Despite our recent earthquake nightmare here in New Zealand I am finding it impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, let alone the threat of nuclear radiation leaking from several damaged reactors.

In the days after February 22 it felt like our little nation had been kicked in the stomach, a much more vicious kick than the explosions at Pike River dealt us. On Friday evening the owner of that enormous boot sunk it into my guts again as we watched the ocean suddenly rise up to encroach upon peaceful towns and cities in Japan with complete disregard for life. Japan may have a much bigger population and economy than NZ, but their pain is the same. Their fear as the earth heaves is the same. Their terror as enormous waves crash upon them is something unknown to us. Apprehension at a potential radioactive menace is also foreign to our nation.

What are we really experiencing as we consider the tragic events in Japan? Surely there is empathy, mourning, shock. Yet if we are honest there is also fear – fear of the future, of what might yet be to come that may affect us more directly. The news is full of it, interviews of experts asking them why that building collapsed when others didn’t. Official inquiries into industrial accidents. Quizzing world experts on seismology asking whether more ‘big ones’ might be in store for us. Accosting theologians, ministers and pastors for an explanation of what God is doing. We are scared. The very fact that we are watching these events on our TVs and over the internet testifies that we are distant from them. Distant from catastrophe, fearful that it might happen to us.

Some like to blame God or other people, some say “I told you so”, some take the ‘let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die‘ attitude. Those of us who are trying to trust our Father commit ourselves into His hands (Luke 23:46), knowing He may lead our lives directly into suffering but also knowing He has redeemed us (Psalm 31:5). This certainly doesn’t take away the nagging questions or the fear, but it does help me to quieten my soul (Psalm 131). The future is supposed to be unknown to us (Ecclesiastes 8:17), we are called to trust the One who controls it all.

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Aftershock

Such relief to turn off the TV and allow silence to settle upon me after being saturated with news casts of crumpled buildings, dust, distraught survivors, sirens, fires, a toppled cathedral, and bodies in the rubble. I run water, hot water, to wash dishes and thank God for this – a simple, everyday thing which requires major city infrastructure to function and I almost never consider it.
The residents in Christchurch cannot so easily shut off to the disaster. No water, no sewerage system, even no electricity for many. Roads, buildings and bodies broken. Some gone for ever. The interview of a father, a little younger than myself, desperate to help search for his wife in the rubble of a building. In tears he tells the reporter that when his two small daughters asked this morning where mummy is, he could only reply that she was “still at work”. At work, somewhere under that heap of concrete.

Another man tells a different reporter that he is waiting for news of his sister, also a mum, and he asks anyone who is ‘a praying type’ to please pray, “because there is real power in praying you know”. His exact words… faith, even there, even now.

Interestingly, it is now those who claim not to believe in God that are protesting ‘give Christchurch a break’. Who exactly are they addressing? The forces of nature? Even our Prime Minister commented today that “we will not bow to this challenge”. The worldview that there is no God, that chance and randomness rule, causes folks to become hopelessly unstuck when that very randomness and chance strike with force. They shout “unfair” when another earthquake strikes within six months of the first.

There is no reason that can make sense of this event.
No words that can spare our pain.
We are witnessing the havoc caused by a violent and ruthless act of nature…

…We are a resilient nation, and we will not bow down to this challenge.
Prime Minister John Key, 23 February 2011

The great irony is that the Son of God Himself addressed this very issue when asked about senseless deaths:

Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
(Luke 13:4-5 ESV)

Jesus debunks the idea that it is because the people who perished were any worse than those who survived, in effect He is saying that tragic events happen, they are not due to God being ‘out to get’ anyone. Judgment will happen at the end and that is when sense will be made of everything. In the meantime some things will seem senseless, there is nothing useful to be achieved by attempting to make them make sense. The difficult work of faith is to refrain from excusing God from having any responsibility by theorizing clever arguments to let Him off the hook, He could have prevented this earthquake, He chose not to. And yes, it doesn’t seem fair.

I didn’t even feel the initial quake yesterday, being 300km away (190 miles) and on my lunch break at the time. Arriving back at work ten minutes after it occurred, my colleagues asked if I felt it. Even then it was evident that it was large and centered near Christchurch. We felt the aftershocks too, I thought of the six stories of concrete above me while watching my computer monitors wobbling and coffee gently sloshing in my cup. There was no reason to think it could not happen here too, no cause for complacent idealism that because I am a Christian I would somehow be spared. Heaving earth and falling concrete give no heed to my theology.

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Devastating earthquake

Christchurch from the Port Hills, seconds after the quake. 22 February 2011 at 12:51pm

Please pray for the people of Christchurch after a large, shallow earthquake (magnitude 6.3, 5km depth, 10km SE of Christchurch city) struck at 12:51pm today. There is severe damage to buildings, including the cathedral and police have confirmed fatalities. There was also a large aftershock at 2:57pm.

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We are blessed

Christchurch earthquake, 4 September 2010

Little ole New Zealand is getting a bit of a battering from the forces of nature these days; floods, high winds, earthquakes, snowstorms … what next? The insurance companies must be suffering, no doubt our premiums are set to rise significantly.

The photo above shows some of the damage resulting from the magnitude 7.1 earthquake which shook Christchurch awake at 4:35 am on Saturday 4 September 2010. Fortunately nobody was killed in this earthquake, though two people were seriously injured. The repair bill is projected to be up to NZ$3.5 billion, making it the fifth most expensive earthquake for insurers and one of eight to cost over US$1 billion according to the NZ Herald. Add to this the cost of recent floods and other storm damage, plus the ongoing financial effects of the global economic meltdown, and there is cause for concern.

However, the fact I can be concerned about increases in my insurance premiums places me in the category of being one of the wealthiest people in the world. For most people in this world the very idea of insurance policies is a joke – they possess almost nothing to insure, the cost of the premiums would deprive their family of food, insurance companies would consider them too high risk to cover and what is the replacement cost of a shack made of recycled materials illegally built in a slum with rent paid to a gang of thugs? To the family who live there the cost of not having that shack could well be their lives, to an insurance company it might be only a few dollars.

Let me relate part of the story of another family enduring the aftermath of a natural disaster:

…the hurricane of Agatha swept away the previous clinging tin last May, buried it in dozens of feet of smothering red mud. The children had escaped in the relentless, pounding rain to the shelter of the police station. It sheet rained for days.

And when it stopped, he hauled the mud away with his bare hands, with one bucket, with determination sheerer than these cliffs, right up the side of this mountain. I think this would take weeks. I think this would take something out of the center of a man, to build a house again on the same sliding, swallowing, earth because there is no other place to go. He built this shelter again, what his daughter, his grandsons needed, with materials bought by Compassion.

This is a quote from a blog post written be Ann Voskamp while on a trip to Guatemala to see firsthand the work being done by Compassion child sponsorship. Please read this post, it captures in a unique way the reality of life for many (most?) people. Similarly, Ann’s post about how to make your life an endless celebration celebrates the humble service of Christ’s disciples even when it seems to make little impact on the multitudinous needs around about, and her post about the one word that fixes a broken heart, this broken world. I haven’t been there, I cannot capture the pain of a heart bleeding for the poor in such a poignant way.

Please click on the links in the paragraph above, take the time to read those posts and then consider something about the photograph at the top of this page; there is one very badly damaged building – the others, including some very large ones, are mostly intact. Then consider that on January 12, 2010 a similar magnitude (7.0) earthquake hit Haiti, demolished most of the city of Port-au-Prince and killed 230,000 people. Why the difference?

New Zealand is a very seismically active group of islands, so also is Haiti. Both nations have a history of destructive earthquakes. New Zealand has a seismic testing schedule for buildings, strict building codes, a government funded earthquake insurance scheme, well organised civil defence system, high level of private insurance, low population density and the recent quake struck at a time when few people were out and about. Aside from our population density and the time of the earthquake, a significant factor in our low casualty rates for natural disasters is wealth. It takes a lot of spare cash to be able to make useful contingency plans for events that are unpredictable, may not happen within your lifetime and may not even affect you if they do happen.

I am very thankful for the wisdom of our leaders over the years which has given us such resilient infrastructure in this nation. I have done my share of grumbling about the building consent process and the cost of compliance with building codes. Paying for a modest home is taking a big chunk of my pay each week, but the fact I can actually make those payments illustrates the vast gulf between the wealth I have and the poverty that is inescapable for most of my fellow people in this world.

What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV)

You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 10:8 ESV)