We will not easily forget seeing a wall of water overwhelming shorelines and destroying lives in southern Asia on December 26, 2004. News broadcasts relayed devastating accounts of the tragedy. The rising death toll surged beyond comprehension.
We were captivated and stunned by the stories of lost lives, of orphaned children, of people wandering the streets crying for family members who were swept away. Tears filled our eyes as we watched parents weeping and cradling the bodies of their children. A dismayed world faced the ominous reality of our frailty.
Forces of nature are not subject to human planning or ingenuity. The best we can do is study the earth with an eye toward predicting these events, then issue the necessary warnings should such a massive earthquake and tsunami (tidal wave) occur again.
Two streams of thought flowed through my mind in the days after that heartbreaking tragedy. First, the world was not prepared. The absence of a warning system in the Indian Ocean doomed hundreds of thousands of people. The technology was available, but the cost was considered prohibitive by many of the developing nations that were so devastated. Besides, nothing like this had happened in that part of the world - at least not in 500 years. Some people had kept up a steady stream of pressure to establish a warning system, but no one listened until it was too late.
Oh, I do not believe God caused this. Our natural world is often a mystery and frequently reminds us that humans are frail, even in an age of unparalleled technological advance. This should graphically and poignantly remind us that we are to depend on the Creator God who can provide the necessary grace and comfort amid the most devastating natural disasters.
We cannot completely tame our world, try as we might. We must still rely on the God of all comfort.
Secondly, while the world was not prepared, the Church of the Nazarene was remarkably more prepared than we knew. In the three years before the tragedy, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries was training more than 100 disaster response leaders in Southern Asia. Our leaders jumped into action. They gathered emergency medical supplies and immediate necessities. Nazarenes around the globe responded with a massive outpouring of relief supplies.
By now, well over $2 million (U.S.) has been donated by Nazarenes. Our precious people in the affected areas opened their homes, churches, and lives to their stricken neighbors. God did cause this grace in the aftermath of tragedy - He prompted His Church to be His loving presence in the face of devastating loss. It was an outflow of holiness, the natural result of lives transformed by grace and driven by love.
This was Christian holiness on the frontlines - lived out through the extended hands and sacrificial efforts of our Nazarene brothers and sisters in primarily Muslim lands.
We are convinced that God's grace can so transform us that the church becomes the living expression of His holy presence in the face of brokenness. Extending nondiscriminating love to the broken around us by seeing to their well-being is our message at its best.
Our efforts were only a small part of the massive efforts extended by governments, social service organizations, and churches. But our efforts were the "stuff" of holiness. By living this message, we touched the world.
Thank you, Nazarenes, for your holy compassion.
Jesse C. Middendorf is a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.