26 December 2004 was another Lord’s Day morning and we were gathering for worship. I heard my daughter cry out ‘the sea is coming’. At first I didn’t believe her; until I heard the cries of others and witnessed the sea rushing up to the compound gate. Two or three times it came and went.
The tsunami had struck, killing believers at worship and many others besides, tearing through churches and houses. One pastor in the north told me his wife and son were swept away before his eyes.
As a Calvinist I totally trust in a sovereign and loving God who doesn’t allow even the oceans to cross their boundary without his permission. Interestingly, Sri Lankan Charismatics and Pentecostals later slammed their ‘prophets’ for not foreseeing the tsunami and forewarning the churches. Others of them claimed —
afterthe tsunami had taken place — that God had told them there would be some kind of a flood disaster!
But, as Romans 8:28 says, everything
doeswork together forgoodto those who love God. The tragedy indeed brought blessings in its wake.
Blessing 1 — it focussed attention on the Bible
It has been an outstanding opportunity for churches to share the gospel. Many have been asking about Noah’s flood and the end of the world. We have been able to warn them about the great ‘tsunami’ of God’s wrath that will deluge those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ as Saviour before his second coming.
Blessing 2 —
it gave opportunity to Christians to show compassion
One man close to tears said to me, ‘No one helps with such compassion as you Christians. You [your church] are the people who always come forward to help everyone suffering’.
only because of Christ that we show compassion. We have also explained how our brothers and sisters in the West are helping because they have tasted the love of Christ in their lives. Some churches here that had never before relieved the material needs of others helped in the humanitarian effort. There was no church in Sri Lanka that did not participate.
Blessing 3 — it demonstrated Christianity is not just a ‘white man’s religion’
Many Sri Lankans, particularly in rural areas, have believed this myth and, partly because of it, have been hostile to Christianity. But the tsunami aftermath has changed their views to a considerable degree (even if not completely). They admire western Christians for their humanitarian concern for all the ‘nooks and corners’ of Sri Lanka.
Blessing 4 — it opened closed doors
There were a number of places in Sri Lanka previously closed to the gospel. Ministers were beaten or physically threatened if they came into certain areas to preach. For some years we were driven out of certain villages. But God, who is sovereign and almighty, has opened the door to go boldly into those areas on account of the help given.
For example, in three places the church laid on a nursery (
montessori) to help children. In the devastated Buddhist south, compassion shown by Christians has opened a door for the gospel — Bibles and New Testaments have been willingly accepted by many. There are new opportunities for church-planting.
Blessing 5 — it brought unity and harmony
Christians worked together to bring relief and help. Evangelicals and Charismatics played a major role in helping victims. Reformed Evangelical churches coordinated and avoided duplicating efforts as they reached the people. It has also been a joy to see how those churches not directly impacted by the tsunami have helped victims in the other districts.
However, it has to be said that as well as blessings there have been failures. Christians are still people of clay with a tendency to sin. But we can learn from these, and thereby even failures can become blessings in disguise.
Failure 1 — there has been a crisis of integrity
‘There are some people whose true character you only find out when you give them money’ is a proverb here. I preached a sermon soon after the tsunami on ‘the tsunami and its secrets’. The tsunami has revealed the true character and nature of many professing Christians believers.
Overseas aid has poured in, and some ministers have failed to maintain their integrity as they have handled big sums of money. There has been misappropriation of funds.
Some churches have not maintained careful, transparent accounting procedures for money received. Not all designated gifts have been used for the purpose they were given. Some, even evangelical, ministers have diverted tsunami funds for their relatives.
Some believers have dishonoured the Lord’s name by overstating their damages. One Christian, whose motorbike never saw the tsunami water, tried to get a new bike by telling the lie that it was affected by the tsunami.
This temptation has been a particular snare for poor and underprivileged Christians. However, there have been some fine believers who have maintained their integrity amidst their poverty.
Failure 2 — there has been fragmentation
While some churches have been united in the common task, others have fragmented. Sad to say, some donors sent money with ‘strings attached’. So workers became separated from their own churches to plant new ‘churches’ at the behest of their donors.
In some cases divisions have occurred because of ministers mishandling money; in other cases because of unruly church members jealous at the help given to others. I have rebuked the sin of jealousy from my pulpit many times.
Some, instead of devoting their energies to helping victims, have enjoyed the sense of power and control over the money they administer. Such people have split the churches.
Failure 3 — there has been forgetfulness of Acts 6
In Acts 6 there were material needs among the Greek widows. The apostles wisely handed over such matters to the deacons to look after so that they could devote their time to the ministry of the word and prayer.
True, in times of famine in Judea, the apostle Paul arranged for collected money to be sent there from other churches, but unfortunately some pastors have so plunged into social work that they have forgotten their preaching. Less and less time has been spent with the Lord and in the work of a spiritual under-shepherd.
At the outset everyone was necessarily involved in coordinating and supervising relief work. But wiser ministers returned as soon as possible to the ministry of the word and prayer. Those who did not have since suffered a noticeable deterioration in the standard of their Bible teaching and preaching.
Failure 4 — there has been competitiveness and pride
ome ministers are boasting childishly of their achievements in helping tsunami victims. When they do this they undermine less privileged churches who received little help from abroad. Their arrogance and haughtiness on getting enormous funds has been indescribable, revealing carnality and immaturity.
In the sovereign plan of God, the tsunami has exposed many good and bad things. But in spite of all the problems the Lord knows his elect and saves whomever he wants to save. Through calamities he speaks loudly, calling sinners to repent and come to the feet of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. In all things God’s name is lifted up and glorified!