Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dazed by Disasters - Christianity Today Magazine

Dazed by Disasters - Christianity Today Magazine:

"A woman and her daughter were inside the government-run eye clinic in Battgram, Pakistan, when the ground suddenly began to shake. Running outside to safety, the mother turned and urged her girl to hurry. But it was too late. Before the child could escape, the building collapsed. The clinic is now just a heap of corrugated metal and concrete, in which the girl's lifeless body is entombed.

There are countless stories like this in the heavily Muslim Kashmir region of Pakistan, where more than 73,000 people perished and 100,000 were injured when an earthquake struck on October 8. Tens of thousands of more lives are at risk, and at least 3 million people have been made homeless.

Yet after a brief burst of coverage, the media have moved on to other topics. Many American Christians apparently have, too. "Some people probably are becoming numb to these tragedies," Richard Stearns of World Vision told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "What we call 'compassion fatigue' may be setting in...."

From my corner of the Universe, it seems the church has more staying power than the media, whose attention can shift rapidly. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has an ongoing program to meet needs in this country and worldwide.

This editorial acknowledges that Christians have met the call since the hurricane season of 2004, the tsunami that devastated southeast Asia in the last week of 2004, on through the hurricanes of 2005 and the earthquake in Pakistan. Aid workers in Pakistan believe the response has not been at quite the level of earlier giving. This editorial suggests "Yes, charity may begin at home. But for globally minded Christians, it shouldn't stay there."

Two suggestions are made in the editorial:

(1) Budget for disasters. We have had two severe hurricane seasons, and meteorologists suggest that we are beginning a cycle of increasing risks (it has happened before).

(2) Work to reduce risks. The 2000 lives lost resulting from Hurricane Stan in the Yucatan was due more to inadequate construction than to the force of the winds and rain. The same holds true for the earthquake in Pakistan. A program of helping people construct more sturdy homes or to improve agriculture might allow them to mitigate the forces of nature that can be so devastating in their countries.

We Presbyterians are (justifiably) proud of our Self Development of People program which celebrated its 35th anniversary this year. The philosophy of this program is to let people determine their own development, rather than be dependent on handouts that deal with symptoms rather than causes. It would be good stewardship to use our considerable resources to help people reduce devastation before the storms arrive.

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