Wednesday, April 27, 2011

COMPASSION AND SERVICE: Exercises in Practical Humanity

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times6/03/11

Last Thursday, I led the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo and their families in a special farewell service before the vaka (canoe) departed on their next epic voyage to promote traditional sailing and navigation, Pacific culture and highlight the need for each islander of the Pacific to protect our Ocean.

On Friday afternoon before the Uto Ni Yalo set sail,as the Chaplain of the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society, I had a quiet moment of prayer with the crew before they were reminded of the purpose of their voyage, the inspirational message of our nation’s president and the advice of the captain for them to look out for each other as they journey on the Suva to Auckland leg of the voyage.

After a final prayer for crew, the vaka, family members and supporters who had turned up to farewell these maritime ambassadors and following the traditional bole (challenge), the crew cast off and the Uto Ni Yalo left for its next legendary journey.

Later that night as I heard of the massive earthquake in Japan and the ensuing tsunami, with a Pacific-wide tsunami alert in effect, my thoughts immediately flew to these brave men and women at the mercy of the elements.

Later, as I saw images of the destruction to boats and ships, among vehicles, buildings, and almost an entire country, once again I was reminded of the fragility of what humans often take to be permanent human-made structures in comparison to the force of nature.

I have been deeply saddened that in the midst of such disaster and trauma, with a nuclear crisis looming (a call for reflection to all countries that use nuclear energy), with so many men, women and children dead, missing and suddenly homeless, there are those express a judgemental attitude from the safety of their own homes.

Some have claimed that this natural disaster is “God’s judgement on the people of Japan for idolatry” or “for homosexuality.” Some are proclaiming the apocalypse. These “Christians” hold this view as a result of an understanding of a vengeful God of the Old Testament, they forget the prophets God sent first to call people to repentance and they fail to realise the love, compassion and mercy offered through Jesus Christ.

What the people of Japan need now is our love, our compassion, our prayers. They need our solidarity and accompaniment. If the recent disasters in Japan and Christchurch, Chile, Haiti are a result of sin, it is more likely that they are result of the whole of humanity’s sin towards God’s creation, the earth. Our planet is groaning as a result of the damage we humans have perpetrated in our self-interests.

On Monday I had an opportunity to speak to a group of Rotarians in Suva. Rotary, like Lions, Apex, Stri Sewa Sabha, Poor Relief Society and a few others are service and humanitarian fellowships. At the core of these groups is the commitment to altruistic service, that is, to selflessly work for those who are in need.

Japan has been a friend of Fiji for a long time. I still remember my travel to Japan when I, along with two other colleagues from Fiji Television, produced a series of documentaries about Fijian students living in Japan, Paulo Nawalu’s contribution to rugby in Japan and the Tuna Fishing Industry (following a tuna from Fiji to the Tskiji Fish Market in Tokyo and finally to a Sushi Bar).

Each year for nearly three decades, Japanese volunteers come to Fiji to use their skills to help in education, health, and sustainable development etc for the benefit of the people of Fiji. Many communities have hosted these volunteers and as a result have Japanese “sons”, “daughters”, “brothers” and “sisters” – members of their extended family. Approximately 20,000 Japanese tourists visit Fiji each year.

A pastor serving in Korea, another country which like Japan, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, has volunteers that serve in Fiji, wrote recently:

We'll be tempted to interpret this as God's judgment on the Japanese people. I see no evidence for that… Let's not USE a tragedy to try to scare people into faith. It's wrong… We'll be tempted to freak out, express how terrible it is, and then move on in the next news cycle. This is called "blowing in the wind" and it's not very helpful. Instead - let us express our compassion. Do what we can to help. God has blessed many of us with vast resources. (Matthew 25) Pray for Japan and for their recovery… Let's ask God to help us see where He is working for good in this tragedy and lend a hand. And let's be known as the people who were still concerned and standing by the Japanese people after everyone else had lost interest and moved on. This is essentially how we should response in any crisis.”

Let us this week reflect on and strengthen our compassion and commitment to service. Let us think about how we can show our support to our brothers and sisters in Japan. Let us exercise our practical humanity.


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