A Bit to Read
Br John Bruning from Kelmscott spent some months last year in China, in order to learn Chinese. After the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province two weeks ago, he wrote this article. I take the liberty to reprint it here, slightly edited.
23 May 2008
12 May, the year of the Lord 2008. A father and mother cradle the body of their daughter, found crushed in the rubble of a multistory kindergarten. A mother holds the limp body of her only son, crushed by the concrete floors in his school. A father wails besides the broken and still body of his wife. Death had just crashed through their city like a towering tsunami. Thousands of children lie buried under the rubble of more than 6,000 schools; 70,000 deaths, 250,000 people injured. Thousands grieve in the devastation. Entire city neighborhoods lie in ruin; livelihoods are shattered.
The news and pictures of the Sichuan earthquakes are gut wrenching and like spears in your chest. The despair on the faces is forever imprinted in your mind.
But there is much more to the picture. The lives, now shattered, were tragic enough before the earthquake. These people have it really tough; I have seen them in factories working in very harsh conditions. Young women, operating big noisy machines that punch out staples, work for 70 cents an hour. Young people, forced to leave rural areas due to poverty, move to the big polluted cities to find work. Other children, too young to leave, pick their way through the local rubbish dump for reusable material, hoping to earn a few cents. One waitress I met shares a tiny apartment with 4 others because they cannot afford anything else. They had to sleep in turns because there was space for only three beds. Their apartment has no bathroom. A welder has to work on the footpath in minus 14 degrees to make a living. A group of young teenagers and their managers, working for slave’s wages, were making belt buckles and bracelets for dainty ladies in the West. These people know they are the slaves for an affluent western world who want their goods for as cheap as possible. And there are lots of middlemen who will keep the prices down… Middle school students are at school from 7.30 am to 8.30pm. Their parents work similar hours.
The picture gets still bigger. Parents, even in the homes, are not allowed to teach their children religion. Families are not allowed to attend a true church. Rulers, who rule by the power of the gun, try to keep their people in spiritual darkness, enslaved by the cruel evil one.
As a result many go through life with empty hearts and souls. They try to fill them with music, some nice clothes, watching movies or socializing when they have time. But try as they might, the empty black hole does not get filled. Their souls cry out, but for most their cry is absorbed by other cries and no answer comes. You can feel it in their culture. Chinese books and music contain great cries of anguish and pain, without an answer…
Daily life is so difficult that men and women who are 50 years old look and feel like 70. Tiredness, disappointment, resignation and hopelessness are deeply etched in their faces. And now another terrible earthquake. In 1976 there was another like it which destroyed the city of Tangshan, killing 245,000 people. A song was written about it. Its melody and words tear your heart apart. Its words come from a survivor whose dying mother encouraged him with …. well, just to pick up the pieces and continue living. It is a song without real hope.
And we cry, why Lord?
Of course the tragedy of China is not unique. The recent cyclone in Burma claimed some 120,000 lives. We remember the deadly tsunami in Indonesia. Throughout the history of this world there has been immense suffering and death. People have always felt the black hole in their soul and vainly tried to fill it with music, fashion, entertainment and the like. Lamech’s family, who lived away “from the presence of the Lord” already tried it (Genesis 4). And it is still going on; it is happening around you right now in your neighborhood; Ipod, TV and DVD addiction are not just entertainment; fashion is not just an identity statement. Drugs and alcohol drinking are not merely leisure pursuits. No, they are attempts to fill empty hearts and souls; futile efforts to find some peace or escape in a ruined world...
So Sichuan’s tragedy is but a sample of mankind’s plight in this vale of tears.
And we cry, why Lord?
There are different reasons for suffering in this world…
Here I deleted a piece in which br Bruning reflects on the causes for suffering. He focused particularly on God’s righteous reaction to sin and the resulting need for all sinners to repent. He picks up his conclusion and continues:
The anguish in China, Burma and throughout the world is ultimately caused by men who have turned against God and rebelled against His commandments. God reacts to this, sometimes in righteous fury. In this way He urges us to respond, by repenting from our sins, seeking “the LORD while he may be found”. He also shakes us so we will live according to His commandments.
But we need to do more. We also have a task towards those who have anguished souls because they live without God. In Matthew 28:18 – 20 Jesus gives to His church the mandate to “make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you”. We have the mandate to bring the glad tidings that God will not “keep His anger forever …toward those who fear Him; … to such as keep His covenant and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103).
What can you do for those who lost so much in the recent disasters? We should pray for the survivors and relief workers; we should give financially via relief funds. Above all we must support mission work with all our might. While there is still time, do it. Only repentance and faith in Jesus Christ’s saving work can bring true comfort and hope, and restoration with a God who is righteously angry over sin. And faith can only come by the preaching of the Word. This makes mission work and your support for it so important. Only that will bring them true and lasting relief and comfort.
And we can also be active closer to home. The Heidelberg Catechism in LD 32 says: “… Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that … by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbors for Christ.”
Who cannot but be moved with compassion for those who, as yet, live without hope? Let’s be truly human and help and pray for souls in anguish. While God gives us time. Sichuan and Burma are warning enough.
As an appendix to his article, JB placed a portion of a letter he received from a sister in China. She wrote:
We have a brother called Daniel, who went back to his hometown in Sichuan just after the graduation from our “school” [she means that Daniel has just completed a Bible course]. He is fine. Now he is serving in the area called Mian Yang with many leaders from other family churches, and they go into the villages to help people there, and share the Gospel stories with them. And I called him this afternoon, he shared with me the exciting news, which is that many many people receive the Lord and submit to Him. Oh! Father, Praise your name, and before the disaster, we people have a soft (uncaring) heart for Thee. So may thy will be done, May thy glory shining there. Please remember the brothers greatly to be His powerful, lovely and effective witness, and draw more and more lost sheep to the great shepherd.
And there is another serious issue; you have to know that the aftershocks still happen again and again there. And the city Daniel stays in will happen 7.8-8 Richter scale in the future days, so please remember him & Father's workers there. Plea Father to protect them & be with them. We thank you & all you people's love [in Australia], we are all His children in Him, and thanksgiving to Father.
The whole country will mourn for the victims in this earthquake, and the flag will be off half, and time is from 19th to 21st May, at 14:28. All the cars, ships, shall ring to mourn for 3 minutes, and today is the second day, and the day has being raining here, it seem it also is crying for them, so our heart is dropping tears for them, for China, the huge lost sheep, Oh! China, when will you be ready for His mercy and love? When will you refuse His love no longer to struggle in the suffering. So we need your hard prayers, and China needs His & your love! May He bless you more for your caring!