Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Floods, Hurricanes and Earthquakes. When tragedy strikes. How do we cope?

Tragedy is going to happen to us, sooner or later. So when it does, what will we do? This blog describes briefly the floods and category 5 hurricane recently hitting my family in Australia and the catastrophic Christchurch earthquake (with some links for pictures)...and my first experience with a Tornado last week. The second half of the blog helps us question if we are actually ready for these 'times of trouble', it encourages us to see how God will help us embrace the tragedy in our lives and to expect even greater challenges ahead. It also asks the question... "When people pray for the soon return of Jesus, do they really know what they are praying for?"

South Bank Beach in the
city center of Brisbane by
the river. It all flooded!
In January I watched my beautiful city, flood. It was devastating. A city so perfect, so clean, so fun, with bike paths, gardens and even a beach overlooking the city skyscrapers next to the winding Brisbane river. In the U.S. I struggled to find news or information. To be so far away from my homeland and feel so helpless is a feeling we have all felt at some time. Memories of 911 flashed through my mind. 
Queensland had been drowned with rain for the last month or two - the wettest season in 100 years. La Nina they said, causing drastic changes to the weather patterns. Last year had been a drought (the last ten years on and off) bringing with it, water restrictions of four minute showers. Everyone just lived with that. But now the dams were at 160% capacity and climbing. The rains had flooded the large towns at the top of Queensland and it seemed to be slowly coming down the coast. Three quarters of the state, an area the size of France and Germany, was under water. Then the flash flooding started, water gushing with such enormous force a whole town was swept away without warning. People were trapped and missing. Terrifying beyond words. 

The river was rising to its peak at almost the same time as a King Tide but water had to be continually let out of the dam upstream. My heart was breaking watching the story unfold. The city flooded on (Jan) 11/01/11.  My old church ministry Grace Fellowship - caring for homeless people - has a house by the Brisbane river. The water came so close. My step sisters house had water to the mailbox. But many people lost everything. Up to 100,000 homes and business' damaged. Power out for days. The city at a standstill. 20 billion dollars worth of damage.

Volunteers by Erik K Veland
The next day after the flood, a Former Prime Minister and kids even came out to help their neighbors clean the stinky mud. Great relief to my heart and happy tears came as the reports of 20,000 volunteers with their boots, buckets and spades loaded on free city buses to help complete strangers and spend their days working to bless others. A pastor friend set up his Red Frog chaplaincy tents and BBQ's. (If I had been there I would have set up prayer therapy tents!) It seemed like thousands of people were on a mission trip! Tourists visiting the city even pitched in to help out! The spirit of love is still evident in the world even through people that may not believe in Jesus.

A few weeks later I was again trying to concentrate on writing my book in Florida. BUT then I watched another national disaster loom off the coast of Australia. This time it was a category 5 Cyclone/Hurricane called Yasi, with the size of the storm about as big as the U.S! It was heading straight for my brothers' family in Townsville. I woke at sunrise that morning  praying intensely and interceding on behalf of his family and others. The prayers were answered with my nephews sleeping soundly through the night without the trauma of listening to the howling winds and horizontal rain. Their area was not the most severe. The eye of the storm hit up the coast with entire mountains stripped of their leaves looking like a bombscape. Entire crops were wiped out with the floods and the hurricane causing a national disaster.

The next tragedy was in my other homeland New Zealand. I was born there. On (Feb) 22/02/2011, Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 earthquake devastating the CBD at lunchtime. My heart goes out to the people who witnessed such trauma. Workmates were trapped in collapsed buildings. Suburbs were rendered unlivable. For the next few days rescuers found many people but many more are still missing and may not be found. Unfortunately over the next few weeks there will be many funerals and thousands of people will have lost someone close to them. So many more may not find out for weeks or months. Please keep these families in your prayers. See below for video picture links.

'Inland Tsunami' by Mandy Smith - Art Therapy
How do we react to trauma? I know that I watched a little bit too much TV and it distressed me as it was too overwhelming. Especially the commentators who emphasize and exploit emotional moments. I need to learn to turn it off, maybe just read the updates in future. I need to check my emotional health and see if it is disrupting my normal life and spend more time praying and talking to God and others about it.

My friend Mandy Smith did some art therapy after witnessing the Brisbane floods. She suggests taking time to contemplate and process what you have just witnessed - walk around and find meaningful memories, collect items finding value in brokenness and junk, asking God to see with new eyes. Create interactive worship experiences that use symbols of destruction that people bring along. Create art and then journal your thoughts. Talk to children. De-brief with them. Help them work through their emotions. 

Volunteering can help, doing something productive. Getting out in the sunshine, doing happy things that keep you from depression. Talking about it and helping other people talk through their emotions is highly important. The more you talk about a trauma the less Post Traumatic Stress you will have. 

So is this the end times? The time of trouble the Bible mentions before the end of the world? It is indeed for many people in those areas. When tragedy strikes or we find ourselves in life threatening situations is that not a time of trouble for us? We don't know when it will strike or where but we know that it WILL strike us some time. Something bad will happen to us sooner or later. If we don't lose something to a fire, natural disaster or we are hurt in some way then we will die, yes, sooner or later. This is troubling. Yet, this is the type of world we live in. It is full of trouble.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus says in John 16:33, verse 22 -24 says the Holy Spirit will now be with us"... Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again [in the form of the Holy Spirit] and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."

Prosperity messages are not correct. If we choose to be a Christian we will not live a charmed, blessed life of wealth and prosperity in every area of our lives. We certainly will be blessed with all the things money cannot buy - joy, peace, patience - if that is what we seek - we WILL be blessed in ways beyond our imaginations. Some Christians may be successful, powerful and wealthy as blessings from God, but they will still suffer tragedy in different ways. Suffering is our destiny in this life, until the bridegroom comes… His abundant blessings can be found in that suffering. If you think your life as a Christian can be lived in a charmed bubble you are out of God's will. Suffering is a given… even Persecution is promised… you WILL have troubles in this life….

The journey of the Disciples' life, is a difficult one, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet we hold God's hand, he is our rock and our guide. No matter what happens to us in our bodies we know that our spiritual destiny is assured with all the unbreakable promises of God. 

If God tells me to go to a dangerous place to share the gospel I will go knowing it is his perfect will. No matter what happens there, I am in the palm of his hand. Live or die I will know that I am happy with either result. I know that terrible things may happen to me at some stage. In full time prayer ministry the spiritual warfare is incredibly intense. But sometimes I just do stupid things and make bad choices so I can't blame all my problems on the devil! God also takes us through the refiners fire. So my commitment is to "not get offended no matter what I, God, the devil, or others do to me but remain faithful to the end". This is a challenge. A spiritual test of faith and character. I remain confident that if I remain faithful in all the little hardships and trauma I go through now, it will help me remain faithful when the bigger tragedies of life happen, the times of trouble.  

For those who pray for Jesus soon return - do you know what you are praying for? No one skips straight over the time of trouble and straight into heaven. If you are praying for the soon coming of Jesus then you are also praying for the soon coming of disaster and tragedy. I am not ready yet even though it is happening all around us! I have difficulty coping with my own personal little tragedies. I am asking God to help prepare me, with trepidation, begging him to never let go of my hand, and for it to be slow and not more than I can handle. It feels tearfully like getting an inoculation at the doctors. 'Bring it on! I know its good for me but I'm still shaking in my boots!' Do I trust God? Do I trust myself? I should because God trusts in me, to do incredible things!

Practice trusting in God. Trust is built by experience, it is not just something that is just thought… to believe something really deep down without a shadow of a doubt is usually because it has been tested and confirmed and you just know, that you know, that you know… I want that trust, that faith, that hope, that belief, that courage. We are loved by God regardless of what happens to us. We can't take tragedy personally. 'Why did this happen to us?' is not a question to ask but 'God show your glory at this time' or 'am I ready for when this will happen to me?'

My heart goes out to those affected by the disasters that have happened recently not only in Australia and New Zealand but around the world, in Egypt and Libya. Intercession is powerful and it really does work. Next time you hear of a tragedy on the news get up to watch the sunrise and let God pray through you to change the situation and send angels on your behalf. This world is in a battle and we cannot do it alone. We must have the power of the Holy Spirit working through us connecting us to the heart of God and each other. If we cannot help people in person we can help them spiritually through powerful prayer.

God our creator, please teach us how to deal with suffering. Please fill us with your Holy Spirit so we do not get offended by what happens to us. We want to remain faithful to the very end so please test us while we wait. Stretch us and grow us and allow us to find more faith and trust in ourselves and in you. I pray that you will wake us early some mornings to intercede for others. I pray that you will speak through us to encourage and bless those around us that may be going through a hard time. I pray you will open our eyes to the suffering in our world and to embrace the suffering in our own.

 I pray that as we claim the scriptures and speak your words those around us may find healing. Please give us wisdom, discernment, knowledge, strength, peace and most of all give us joy in every situation. Help us to bind the enemy when he puts deceptive thoughts and images in our minds. Help us to see the spiritual warfare around us and learn how to pray against it to bind the enemy and all his schemes.

Our precious Jesus be close to us. Hold us in your arms so we can feel your presence, and speak clearly to us, so that in all we face we will be strong in the confidence that no matter what happens, we are in covenant with you - a covenant of love that reaches beyond death. Teach us to remain faithful Lord, and fill us with your joy.  In Jesus holy precious name, Amen.

Psalm 27:13 "I would have fainted had I not believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."

 "'I want Thy plan, O God, for my life.  May I be happy and contented whether in the homeland or on the foreign field; whether married or alone, in happiness or sorrow, health or sickness, prosperity or adversity--I want Thy plan, O God, for my life.  I want it; oh, I want it!'" Henry and Richard Blackaby, Experiencing God, p. 236--quoting a prayer from Oswald Smith, a pastor in Toronto.

15 minute documentary of the full story of the earthquake and recovery (warning graphic):

What would you do if the water and sewerage were broken in your neighborhood? Some toilet humor...

Building Across the Street! 

For those in pain from the earthquake - read Psalm 46.

One little extra miracle. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has a 24 hour online TV News Update. Different countries are not allowed to access this Update for copyright reasons but during the time of the disasters it did let me view it for a week. What a relief to know what was going on!

Yesterday I drove through downtown Chattanooga, cheerily on an errand, right into the middle of a Tornado oblivious to any warnings. The rain and hail was suddenly so strong I couldn't see to drive! The fa├žade of a building next to our little Planet Altered fair trade shop, gallery and worship center came down right where I was about to visit. Sometimes I feel like I have angels helping me drive my car! Praise God for his protection yesterday. Today is a new day. I ask for him to be close to all of us today no matter what happens.

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