During the 40 days of Lent, we seek new ways of walking--and waiting--with God. The Church invites us to engage spiritual disciplines that might help us understand emptiness in new ways. We seek wilderness places where we might glimpse something holy in barren territory. But we don’t often think of that emptiness in literal terms. In the wake of disaster, bareness becomes a very tangible thing, something raw and visceral. Emptiness becomes a real lived experience.
And so does waiting.
Indonesia is well-known for its rich, beautiful scenery. But in fall of 2018, a tsunami laid waste to the region, leaving behind a barren landscape. Thousands lost their lives, and even more lost homes and livelihood. More than 173,000 have been displaced. The scenery has been dramatically altered, as have the lives of those who survived.
For the past week, Executive Director Vy Nguyen has been traveling in Indonesia with partners from the ACT Alliance and Church World Service. Together, they’re assessing the damage in that region; evaluating the progress of recovery efforts; and determining long-term needs moving forward.
One thing that all the survivors have in common: waiting is now a very big part of their lives.
In the immediate wake of the September tsunami, our CWS partners began providing tents. Within the first week, they were able to provide water, food, mattresses and hygiene kits as well. Now, six months later, few families in the camps are being transferred to transitional shelters: these structures are a step up from tents, though not intended for long-term use. Each one costs about $1100 to build, and can last for a few years. Measuring about 120 square feet, each houses a family of up to four people.
The long term recovery process is slow. With challenges in local infrastructure, it will take the government several years to complete the permanent rebuilding of homes. Most residents in this area are farmers and fishermen by trade. Having lost not just homes, but also vocational tools and access to land, survivors must find new ways of producing income to support their families.
And in the midst of all this, flags fly above the rubble. They’ve been placed where human remains lie; marking a memory of sacred life that has yet to be recovered.
This is the weight of waiting: waiting to return home or build a new one; waiting for the water truck; waiting for more work, or new work; waiting in grief with friends and neighbors who have lost everything.
In the face of such tragedy, we may be tempted towards despair. The need seems too great, and the suffering too extensive, for our gifts or presence to ever make a difference.
But in this holy season of Lent, we remember that we are called to the sacred work of waiting. More than that--we are called to an active waiting. We follow Jesus into the wilderness, the altered landscape of loss, because that’s where he always goes. We’re on this road together, to bear witness to the love that bears all things; even unthinkable suffering. By some mystery, our presence there is transformed to living hope. And we believe that, in the space that remains, God might do some new thing again.
Even in the most barren places, there are glimpses of good news. Church World Service continues to provide resources to those sheltering in camps--including fresh water supply, delivered daily. Our partners through ACT Alliance work closely with leaders to provide psychological and emotional support. Plans are in place to build 200 more transitional shelters over the next two years, while looking ahead to long term recovery. And in the midst of all this, a sense of community abides. And the welcome even extends to strangers from far away... strangers who’ve come to wait with them for awhile.
During this season of Lent, know that your giving to Week of Compassion reaches even the darkest of waiting places. And your generosity becomes living hope to those who wait. Thank you for letting them know that they don’t wait alone.