Over the past couple of weeks our eyes and ears have been exposed to the news of the devastating onslaught of numerous cyclones hitting land across the Pacific. Whether we have seen the free-to-air TV coverage, posts on social media, listened to radio broadcasts, read newspapers or viewed online sources, the information will be fairly consistent. Homes destroyed. Lives lost. Townships devastated. Crops damaged. Water supplies contaminated.
For a moment we get a glimpse of what the residents would have been through... and then we flick channels, turn the page, switch stations or do another Google search. In the blink of an eye, our attention is fixed on something else. We are shaken for but a moment, yet not stirred enough to respond.
We have all walked diverse paths in life and will view reports of the recent disasters through very different eyes. We may or may not have personally experienced the effect of a natural disaster on our own community. We may or may not have visited an area devastated by a natural disaster. We may or may not know someone directly impacted by natural disaster.
To this day I have not had to walk such a shocking journey. I know millions of others have. But how should I be responding to what I see and hear? Is there a written guide, 'How I should respond to Cyclone Pam'?
How should I respond?
Cyclone Pam left a damaging path as it tore through the Pacific Islands region last weekend. Richard Tatwin of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu said the poorest people were worst affected. He states that right now there is no more rice in town (Port Vila) and all those who have gardens have nothing left. In days to come they are going to face major issues regarding food, shelter, safe water and clothing (abc.net.au). How can I respond when I feel so helpless here in my lounge room?
At a similar time, Cyclone Olwyn ripped through regions 900km north of Perth, which only months ago was suffering drought. It is an area that relies heavily on its horticultural industry for the local economy. Cyclone Olwyn flattened all the new banana crops ready for a season that was looking hopeful. The cost of the cyclone is still adding up. However, with the banana plantations alone, it will be millions (abc.net.au). How do you respond to hearing such words, knowing that behind those plantations are real families simply trying to survive?
My husband has family who live in Bohol, a small island amongst many others in the Philippines. When we visited in 2012 we enjoyed the beautiful ancient buildings and unique landscape. This little tourist's delight was hit by a massive earthquake one year later in October 2013. A lot of what we had seen completely destroyed.
As if that wasn't bad enough, on November 7, just 3 weeks after the earthquake, super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck the region. Although the storm's eye missed the area affected by the earthquake, it sent thousands of Bohol residents still living in temporary shelters back to evacuation centres and disrupted relief efforts in the province. To this day they are still trying to recover from the horror that swept over them.
Sometimes I feel a bit confused as to how to respond. How can I not become so overwhelmed by hearing about disaster after disaster? What can I do? It just doesn't seem fair. Why them?
Be moved to respond
The other day we had a little earth tremor that shook our home that we mistook for a car hitting our garage. The next day, every man and their dog are posting on Facebook freaking out over... a little shake. I guess fear sets in as to what it 'could' have been. People complain about the price of bananas. An extra few dollars on our budget when families in northern Australia or Vanuatu have nothing left to budget.
Even if I haven't experienced a natural disaster in my own backyard I would like my responses to be as if I had. As if I knew the cost personally—emotionally, physically, financially etc. I may never truly know what it is like.
But Jesus knows, and others around me may know. He will help me have some insight, and if I learn from others experiences, I CAN respond in my own simple way. There are countless wonderful examples of responses to natural disasters and it is these we can learn from and be encouraged by. Some of these responses include:
Giving of my time
Giving resources or skills
Praying in groups
Praying as individuals
Talking to others about their experiences
Helping children learn about impacts
Visiting an area affected to help
Be moved in your heart to respond... in some way. I want to be shaken. I want to be moved. I want to be stirred to respond. Would you join me?
Laura Veloso is wife to John and the mother of 3 young boys. She is trained in child welfare and primary school teaching and has experience in overseas missions and youth leadership.
Laura Veloso's archive of articles may be viewed atwww.pressserviceinternational.org/laura-veloso.html