Sunday, June 15, 2008

One month from the epicentre

[photo from South China Morning Post]

On May 12, a massive earthquake ran through the province of Sichuan, China. On that day, I was sitting in a manager office of the Ernst & Young Tower in Toronto (actually) doing some work before my dinner plans that evening. While various coworkers remarked at the current events of the day, the statistics were processed in my head as information (and at that time the death toll was likely 'only' around the 20,000 range.) I didn't process the events of the earthquake until I returned to Hong Kong to see and feel the impact that this earthquake had on the people of Sichuan, China (including Hong Kong), and of Chinese people worldwide. And not even now, with a death toll of over 69,000, can I seemingly really comprehend the tragedy of this disaster, and only one disaster among many.

The photograph above was accompanied by the story of parents raging against politicians regarding the collapse of a school of 1600 students. Reading and seeing that brought tears to my eyes. Of course, the loss of life is tragic, on any level. Add to that, the loss of a child (and remember these were the only child parents were allowed to bear), but the loss of students -- such students who were to become the foundation of future society -- magnifies greatly the loss to future society. The figures are mind-boggling. And while it is possible to extrapolate the pain of a loss of a parent or a child, that is still an idea.

There was an slight connection having been to the small city of Mianyang which was not affected by the earthquake but was on high alert for fear of the quake lakes. [By the way after I visited the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Mianyang in 2005, the entire campus moved to Chengdu in the following year. As far as I know, none of my students were affected by the earthquake.]

It was a blessing to listen to a first-hand account of a small team who went to the sites with an American Christian relief organization two days after the earthquake. Their pictures and stories brought the level even closer, feeling the dearth of fresh water or any food, sensing the loss of a home and livelihood, not having any covered personal space to sleep, or to even breathe fresh air, or even to find a suitable grave space for a loved one... It was a sad, sad Father's Day for some. I pray for the children who lost their father or mother, and I pray for the parents who lost their children.

But hope only emerges out of such tragedy. As devastating as this earthquake was, I know I am still limited in what I can comprehend (though it takes some time for the massive level to come down to me.) It takes reminding that God's power cannot be measured on any scale; for that power would be *truly* incomprehensible. Even a measure of 8 has already been protected by his mighty hand; the earthquake could easily have been detrimentally stronger or if it were situated nearer to more populous areas. Despite the sinfulness and degradation of humankind, his Spirit is still present and is our protector and help in times of trouble. How can we imagine the picture when he will return back to heaven?

And amidst the desperate situation, there have been many counts of kindness and love expressed on a face-to-face level that reminds me of the rawness of humanity. There are no classes or levels amongst us; we are all broken and in need. We all need food and water to survive. And when someone has little but still is willing to share, the gesture of love expresses more than words could express. I pray that God bless those who share love during this time, and that God's love showers upon China.

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
    Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
        -- Psalm 46:1-3

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