One more step
1994 was the year of genocide in Rwanda. I was working with Scripture Union, and we heard of a Rwandan Scripture Union staff member who was among the many thousands of refugees who fled into the border city of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On arrival, he continued preparing SU Bible reading notes. My first reaction to this news was to think how extraordinarily ordinary such behaviour seemed, and indeed to wonder if he might not have done something a little more helpful for the suffering.
Yesterday, Christchurch was hit by the earthquake. I came home from work and watched numbly as the news unfolded. When I left the television, anything else I was doing seemed trivial, and to prepare an evening meal felt positively indulgent. There is a sense almost of guilt about normal tasks that persists this morning, even into writing this editorial.
It is, of course, not a “normal” editorial. It is the last to appear in this printed version of The Treasury magazine. There will be others to come, on the web, but this issue of the magazine is something of a milestone. Shouldn’t I be writing about that?
Well, maybe. But change happens. We know that, and we should expect it. Only God is eternal: when we subconsciously expect anything else to be so, perhaps we have wandered into a subtle form of idolatry. Martin Luther wrote, and we used to sing: “These things shall vanish all: the city of God remaineth.”
So I don’t feel like writing now about Treasury editorials being printed by readers instead of by GPH, with all of Christchurch, and properly New Zealand, preoccupied by a scale of suffering that has yet to emerge. And yet, set against that, I have this emerging memory of the Rwandan man preparing Bible reading notes while fleeing for his life from a massacre that we still find difficult to believe.
It took me some time to get there, but I came to think he had it right. He might have spent his time patching wounds or trying to stem hostilities – and I guess he did do some of that. But his nation’s problems could only be really addressed deep down, and he was working on it. Providing “living water” as well as physical water is what Jesus is all about. We would do well to ask what this now means in present day New Zealand, and not only in a city where water has suddenly become very precious.
For one thing, it means that we extend our love to the people of Christchurch, in tangible ways and also in words, and find means of identifying with them as Christ taught us to do. Christchurch may have lost its cathedral, but please God, may it find its church.
The second thing is to retain the Christian values that Christ has taught us: not to become so engrossed in the events around us that we think of nothing higher, nor so detached from those events that we are callous or possibly useless, and it would be hard to know which was worse. Jesus looked on people’s needs with compassion, and he calls on us to do no less. We need to retain an awareness of the eternal among our appropriate reactions to the temporal. This is not a new thing that has been created by the earthquake. In a way, nothing is different: only more charged. Tragedy has a way of focusing us on the important.
May we the church focus on what we are called to do, which is to bear witness to the hope we have, in word and deed, and to live fully in this world while being messengers of another. This of course is the task too of Treasury, in its emerging new life ahead as in the years of the past: to encourage Christ’s followers to fight the good fight, to maintain a witness to the God of our salvation, to keep the faith and to interpret it within New Zealand and abroad in ordinary times and in crisis. Faith, hope and love are the enduring things of God that he has given to his people, and there is opportunity for them to shine in times of tragedy and of change. May we grow in them all, to the enriching of each other and the world and to the glory of God.
Grace to you and peace.