Resilience In The Wake Of A Tsunami
One of the nation's hardest hit by the Asian Tsunami was the small country of Sri Lanka.
Laying just to the south of the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka has endured years of civil strife. Tamil fighters in the north have long wanted to see the nation become a part of India. The nation has paid dearly for its resistance to these demands.
Now the rebel fighters are among the many thousands mourning the nation's dead and a nation has, at least for now, become united by tragedy.
I visited this beautiful island in 1986, as part of a small mission to assist churches and youth works in various parts of the nation.
I have never forgotten the glorious scenery, or the generosity of the Christian people we met and the simplicity and depth of their faith in God.
A few days ago, I was contacted by a pastor from a church in Melbourne, Australia.
Pastor Roland Sathiaseelan is from the eastern coastal town of Akarapathu, but has lived in Australia for the past 20 years, ministering to the large Sri Lankan population there.
On Boxing Day he lost 12 of the 15 members of his family living in that town and one of the surviving relatives, a teenager, broke both legs.
He told a Melbourne newspaper that one of his cousins worked in the Middle East. When the wave came rushing in, she went back into her house to grab her passport and was swept away.
In his letter to me, Pastor Roland asked for help to make people aware of a small appeal he has launched to help people in his home town – and particularly the members of the local church there.
More than 330 members of this one church have lost everything they possess. And this will, no doubt, be just one among hundreds or thousands of churches in similar situations.
For those of us hearing about the Asian disaster via TV news reports, it is incredibly difficult to get any real sense of how sudden was the tsunami's devastation – and how great is the confusion and grief left in its wake.
For people like Roland, the pain is all too real. As a church leader, he has given his life to reaching out and helping others. Now, he finds himself shaken to the core by what has happened within his own family.
'I just feel terrible. I feel hopeless not being there,' he says. 'I feel kind of numb.'
Yet, in the midst of the grief he has a determination to do what he can for those who remain.
'I'm channeling all my energy at the moment to help the living,' he adds.
Some years ago, I lost a good friend to a different kind of tragedy in Sri Lanka – the tragedy of civil war. My friend Rohan, a minister, was ambushed and brutally killed while trying to minister to the practical and spiritual needs of poor people in rebel held areas.
I had seen him in Australia just a few weeks before he died. He and his young family could have stayed in Australia, yet he and his wife chose to return knowing full well that doing so might one day cost them everything.
I remember being impressed at the time by the depth of this man's joy; he was never without a smile.
Because of the nature of his work, he faced uncertain and dangerous times. Yet he possessed a strange peace, a peace that defied the circumstances which surrounded him.
I'm sure that this is what Jesus' meant when he promised his disciples a peace beyond what the world can offer, a 'peace that passes understanding.'
Knowing the depth of the faith that sustains and drives people like Pastor Roland and my friend Rohan, I'm sure that we will very soon start to hear amazing stories of overcoming in places like Sri Lanka.
We will hear of people who've seen generations of their families wiped out, yet whose resilient courage and faith in God will help them not only survive but defy the circumstance to build a better life for others around them.
For now, we need to keep praying and, whatever our means, doing all we can to help in practical ways.
© Mal Fletcher 2005
If you live in Australia, Pastor Roland is urgently seeking help in collecting clothing, blankets, first aid materials, water purification kits and tablets etc. If you can help, please phone (within Australia) 03 8309 1784 or 0410 311 135 or write to: email@example.com. For other opportunities to give and help, check churches and charities in your area, or consult websites for World Vision, the Red Cross, Samaritan's Purse and Salvation Army etc.
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