Sri Lanka Easter Bombings: How Should We Respond?

Screenshot taken from Guardian News Video

 

Written By Asiri Fernando, Sri Lanka

Asiri graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA with a Master of Divinity and is now working for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Asiri is a speaker, Bible teacher and a singer songwriter. Asiri blogs at http://asirifernando.wordpress.com.

 

I was at my packed church on Easter Sunday (Apr 21) in the central hills of Sri Lanka when a friend told me that bombs were going off at church services around the country. Upon returning home, I watched the news in disbelief as it reported scores of people killed in the bombs that went off in three hotels and three churches around the country.

To date, more than 250 people have lost their lives in the explosions and close to 500 have been injured. These figures include the sister of a ministry leader I know who suffered serious head injuries and is currently fighting for her life. A former member of the same ministry died in the bombings. Another youth who attends my organization’s sports ministry lost a leg.

As I reflected on the tragedy that hit the church and our nation as a whole, these two thoughts struck me about how we as believers should respond:

 

1. Embrace the spiritual oneness of the body of Christ

As many who died were church-goers, I had to pause and reflect on the spiritual oneness I shared with the suffering. One of the great marks of being a Christian is that we are part of a family in whom the resurrected Christ dwells (Ephesians 3:17). This may give the impression that we are all living in isolated places as Christ dwells in us. But the Bible says that we are together in Christ too!

A great miracle that took place on the cross apart from our salvation was that God was bringing together a body of people who as a result of the cross will be made irreversibly “one”. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:21b “. . . That they may also be in us”. Paul, in Romans 12:5 says “we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (ESV). The NIV renders it as “belonging to one another”. Isn’t that the language of married couples? We were never saved to live in isolation but saved into a oneness that we together share in Christ. The New Testament shows that we are incorporated into Christ’s body. In a wonderfully spiritual way not visible to our eyes, the Bible says that we were crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), buried with him (Colossians 2:12), baptized into Christ and his death (Romans 6:3), united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). We are now together one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)!

As a result of this glorious truth, the Bible commands us to avoid identity markers as we see Christians from another race, color, nation, social standing, gender etc. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27–28). By the use of the words “neither” and “nor”, Paul, in his writing to the Galatians, says that the primary way we see another Christian is as someone who is clothed with Christ!

As someone from the Sinhalese race, this means that I would see a Christian who is Tamil, not as a “Tamil Christian” but someone who is “clothed with Christ”. While the Bible elsewhere does ask us to celebrate our various identities that make us unique, as we see here, we are to hold lightly to them because of the greater identity we have as those who are clothed with Christ.

All this goes to show the extent of the oneness we share with the body of Christ regardless of where we are in the world. It is because of this oneness that when one part of the body is suffering, we suffer together with it. This would mean that regardless of where we are in the world, as believers, we should pause from our busy schedules, get rid of all distractions (especially the digital ones) and cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

 

2. Reach out to those of other faiths

As the aftermath of the tragedy unfolded before our eyes, the question on everyone’s minds was who was behind it. It was confirmed 24 hours later that the bombers were those influenced by extremists Muslim ideologies.

Romans 12-13 makes it clear that justice will be meted out on the perpetrators. God is serious about punishing wrong and has given earthly rulers the authority to execute judgement (His wrath) on wrongdoers. As Christians, we must condemn evil, and even urge the authorities to act justly. We can also be certain that regardless of what happens in this life, He has also set a day to judge the world.

At the same time, because of the actions of some, the entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka has suffered severe shame and are overcome by deep sadness, fear, and anxiety as they move in public places. I know this is a reality for Muslims in western countries too.

The moment the identity of the perpetrators was revealed, I wrote to my high school Muslim friends assuring them of my love for them. Later on, I also visited the home of a Muslim youth living in Kandy (my city) who is very dear to me. I spent several hours with him, wanting him to be affirmed that my love for him had not changed.

We must do all we can to be close to the those of other faiths who are suffering. If we have not learned to look at them through the eyes of grace, then perhaps we have not fully appreciated all that God has done for us (Romans 5:10). May God open our eyes to see His great love for them and how much He desires for them to know Christ.

 

While we mourn over the lives lost after a horrific tragedy like this, we must keep our two-fold commitment to the body of Christ and to the rest of the world that desperately needs Christ. May we be filled with the Spirit to carry our cross for the glory of God in every season.

Lest We Forget: Remembering the Sacrifices of the Anzac Nurses

The endless procession of stretchers bearing severely wounded men drove home the horrors of the First World War (1914-1918) for Australian nurse Florence Narelle Jessie Hobbes, yet her determination to save and comfort the wounded saw her press on in the face of exhaustion, the lack of food, and an unforgiving climate.

Hobbes wrote in a letter to her family that she felt the “real touch of war” when she saw this scene unfold before her. “Dear heavens, it’s awful, and every man or boy of them is ‘somebody’s boy’,” she wrote. As each stretcher passed by her, she wondered if the next wounded person she saw would be one of her own friends or family, compounding the fears she felt for her loved ones.

Hobbes, who was from New South Wales, was one of the 3,600 nurses (3,000 of whom were from Australia and the other 600 from New Zealand) who had answered the call of duty to serve in the First World War. The First World War was a four-year-long conflict, and was one of the deadliest of wars, costing both Australia and New Zealand dearly in terms of their men’s lives.

Today (25 April), also known as Anzac Day, we remember the sacrifices of these brave men, and the other Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were killed in wars, and to also honor returned servicemen and women. Dawn parades are held in both Australia and New Zealand to commemorate those who had (or currently are) serving in various conflicts.

The date, 25 April, marks the anniversary of the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915, where thousands of soldiers lost their lives.

I have always been a little obsessed with stories that are set in either the First or Second World War, but most of these stories were centered around the brave men who had enlisted as soldiers. So, when I first learned of Australian author and journalist Peter Rees’ book, Anzac Girls: The Extraordinary Story of Our World War 1 Nurses, I was struck by how overlooked the roles of these nurses in war times were. I realized how little I knew of both the emotional and mental toll the war took on these nurses. I decided it was only fitting to dig deeper into their lives, and to draw attention to the sacrifices that these women made.

That was how I discovered the story of Florence Hobbes.

 

 

Pressing On In Spite of the Challenges

What really drew me to her story was reading about how the threat of death didn’t stop Hobbes from signing up to serve king and country at the outset of the First World War in 1914. Hobbes was initially stationed in Malta with the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR), and served in the Valleta Military Hospital. It was at this hospital that she nursed casualties of the Gallipoli campaign.

While Hobbes’ letters did not detail the injuries she saw, we can imagine the wounds inflicted on the soldiers fighting in the trenches would have been brutal. According to the Australian Nurses’ Journal, two nurses wrote that words alone cannot describe the “awfulness of the wounds”: “Bullets are nothing. It’s the shrapnel that tears through the flesh and cuts off the limbs.”

Not only did these nurses have to endure the emotional strain of cleaning, washing, and tending to the wounded soldiers, but they also had to contend with unsanitary conditions and fluctuating temperatures (hot, stifling summer months, and cold, freezing winters).

Nurses on active duty would often be moved around to different locations if they were needed. When Hobbes was stationed at Amara, Mesopotamia, she recalled how the taste of their first rain in Amara ended up transforming the grounds into a large muddy patch.

The hospital was built along the Tigris-Euphrates river, and the soil would soak up the water from the river, and wound its way into the nurses’ rooms, the hospital wards, and the walls.

Yet while these conditions were challenging, Hobbes was motivated by her love for her country and fellow countrymen, and felt a strong sense of pride in being able to save and comfort these soldiers who were fighting in the trenches.

 

Why We Should Remember Them

But as the years passed (and it has been over 100 years since the First World War broke out), it can be easy for us to forget thesacrifices these soldiers and nurses have made. We live in such comfortable times that while we do hear of wars fought afar, most of us would not have personally experienced war, and we can easily take peace time for granted. It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like for these nurses to bid their friends and family goodbye, setting off for long journeys abroad without knowing if they would ever see them again. This is why Anzac Days are so important—to remind future generations of the sacrifices of those who have gone before them.

As I reflected on the selflessness of these nurses, it got me thinking of the love Jesus has called us to show one another in Luke 10:27, where He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. These days, it can be easy to think of “loving one another” as sending text messages littered with “xoxo”, or catching up with a friend for a coffee and posting about it on social media.

But I believe Jesus is talking about love in action as demonstrated by the Samaritan in Luke 10:30, where he stopped to tend to the victim, who was robbed, beaten, and left on the sidewalk for dead. The Samaritan bandaged the victim before placing him on his donkey to be carried to the nearest inn. He even paid the innkeeper for the victim’s accommodation. How many of us would be willing to do such an act for a suffering stranger?

Therefore, I was even more inspired to read more about these nurses, who despite their exhaustion, they continued their tasks of tending to the wounded soldiers. Accounts from their diaries and letters reveal their hectic work schedules. Hobbes wrote of a frantic 48-hour shift, during which she was expecting yet another 100 badly wounded patients to pour through.

Unfortunately, Hobbes was claimed by ill health, and died on the ship that was bound for Australia, just four days before she would have been reunited with her family. A simple funeral service was held on board for Hobbes, and she was buried at sea. Her family was presented with a Memorial Scroll, which was given to soldiers, sailors, and nurses who died while serving the Australian Imperial Force or Royal Australian Navy during the First World War. The message on the scroll commemorated the fallen, who “left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men . . . giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.”

It is said that there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for their friends (John 15:13), and Hobbes has demonstrated this through her dedication and devotion to the wounded soldiers. In turn, this reminds me of the greatest sacrifice Jesus showed when He laid His life down for us on the cross (Philippians 2:6-11). Jesus is God, yet He humbled Himself to the point of death in exchange for our freedom. And because of the freedom that Christ has purchased for us, we too can live our lives with “the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) in service of those around us.

Reading and researching into the lives and sacrifices of these nurses have left me in awe. These nurses saw a need (to serve in wartime) and stepped up to the call. Even though we are not serving in a war, there are many practical ways for us to follow their lead by looking around in our community to see if there is a need we can meet. For example, it could be reaching out to a friend who may be hurting emotionally, a co-worker who might be battling loneliness in the workplace, or offering to help an elderly neighbor to run their weekly grocery shop. Let’s be willing to take a step away from our busy schedules and give up our comfort for the sake of demonstrating love in action and drawing others to the light of Christ.

As we commemorate the sacrifices of the war heroes this Anzac Day, let’s honor their sacrifices not just by remembering their stories, but also by praying that God will enable us to be as courageous and selfless as these nurses were when it comes to serving those around us.

Autism Awareness Day: How I Learned to Enter into Their World

Written By Lydia Lee, Singapore

He was having a very bad day. Something in his routine had changed. He was screaming, crying, and dashing around, hitting out at tables, the walls, and even his forehead. As his distress level escalated, he started grabbing my shirt and pulling at my hair. When he scratched me amid the tugging, I held him at his wrists and said with a steady voice, “Ouch, it’s painful.”

That made him pause. Then he looked down at the ugly red scratch-mark on my hand and his consciousness returned to him. He looked at me and started to cry again—but this time for a different reason. Through his sobs he said, “Oh no! Teacher Lydia is sad, oh no!”

What he meant was that I was hurt. And because he knew he was the one who hurt me, he started crying.

In that moment, I did not register the pain from the scratch. Instead, I registered an ache in my heart for this child.

As a teacher for students with autism, I knew that this child’s condition had prevented him from being able to wrap his mind around a seemingly small change in his routine in order to respond in a rational way. As he became aware of the pain he had inflicted on me, his remorse rose, and I felt an ache for a child who fights a constant battle to align his actions with the empathy and care he has for those around him.

In October of 2017, after 13 years of striving to understand and connect with youths in Singapore to reach them for Jesus, God provided an opportunity for me to become a full-time special-education teacher at a local school for students with autism.

As I considered the opportunity, I thought of the Great Commission, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a). I was used to thinking of “all nations” as referring to people from different countries, people groups, ethnicities or cultures. But I don’t have to travel far. I realized that the children with autism who live among us, who seem so different and foreign, fall under the category of “all nations” too.

Unlike many of the distinctions above, autism bears no physical trait. You can’t tell from their physical features that a person is on the autism spectrum—but their inner world is vastly different to ours. Their world has a unique culture where routines and repetition rule, where visuals speak a million times louder than words, where literal language is king compared to metaphors and body expressions, and where a perfect environment would be when factors such as light, sound, and temperature are kept at a constant.

As I prayed through the decision, I felt challenged to apply the same effort I had with youth in my previous job, to a potentially less-understood and even less-valued group in our society. If I could understand their comfort zone and be willing to step into it even though it may be foreign to me, if I could speak their lingo with visuals they understand . . . perhaps then I could have the opportunity to introduce them to their Maker, to plant a seed about their Savior, and continue doing all of that until one day they come to know Him.

Accepting the position as a full-time special education teacher was my first step into a curious world—the beginning of a great adventure.

 

Making Sense of Autism

Autism is a curious condition. There are many different expert definitions. Some call it a disability, and others, a developmental disorder.

Characteristic to autism are traits such as over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sensations such as sound, light, or touch. People with autism often have difficulty understanding social cues and reading expressions. Thus, their responses at times may seem inappropriate or offensive. They rely on routines and repetitive behaviors, and as a result, it is unbelievably difficult for them to cope with an ever-changing environment and constantly shifting relationships.

I think of people with autism as people who are just living under a different norm—be it intellectual, emotional, or social. Our world is not superior to theirs, merely different. It is akin to us visiting a foreign country with a vastly different culture. But because we do not understand their world, we could find their reactions or behaviors “disruptive” or “scary”. Interestingly, while we find their behaviors “scary”, what we may not realize is that they find us just as unpredictable and difficult to understand, and thus, also equally “scary” and “disruptive”.

Yet, if we embark on a goal to connect with them, the exploration can be fascinating and the discovery, wonderful! After all, God dwells in their world just the same as ours . . . we are just new to stepping in and discovering what God is doing in their space.

 

Learning From My Students with Autism

“Wow, to do this, you must need a lot of patience . . .”

This is the most common response I get whenever I share about my current work. From a smile to a nod, God reminded me to also clarify, “Teaching any child, or ministering to any person requires much patience from us, whether they are neurotypical or special.” And most recently, God has taught me to say, “Patience is a virtue.” That helps me to remember that in some ways, my students are teaching me more and even greater things than I can teach them.

For example, I knew that people with autism were generally described as being socially unaware or aloof in forming relationships. However, I had a student who proved this description wrong. Once, when he saw another student screaming, crying, and kicking around on the floor and thus had to be restrained by some teachers, he became very sad and cried. He grabbed my hand tightly, while sobbing and pointing at the student, he used all his strength to pull me over and urged me to help the child. In this case, he felt deep empathy for the upset child and desperately wanted to offer relief. He just did not know how.

My student displays such a high level of empathy and compassion that many neurotypicals may not have. In a way, his responses to people around him has caused me to slow down to consider the plight of others. His urge to have the situation resolved for the other student, and to go over and pat him on the head upon resolution, made me think that while it is often alright to walk away from a matter because it is being handled, it’s even better if we can stop and offer support . . . even if it’s just a word or an act of consolation. While I am able to teach this child hard skills like how to read and write, he in turn brought me to a place where I realized how much I fall short in having compassion for those around me.

Though the work with my students is greatly rewarding, there are naturally days when their behaviors and responses frustrate or baffle me. There are days where their child-like and unreserved comments make me laugh out loud. There are days where regardless of how much I try to be patient, understanding, and befriend them, they just cannot be pacified—apart from not receiving any reciprocation, I become the brunt of their anger instead. And for a lot of occupations, a “tough day at work” probably doesn’t include the heightened alertness you need to carry around to respond quickly and appropriately to any distressful situations.

The work is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But when you are able to witness their first steps in learning a word, performing a daily living skill task independently, or even when they give you an eye contact and a smile, your heart is full and you won’t be recounting how hard it was but how joyful you are.

My hope is not in my strategies or strength, but in God who created these children in His image, and in the Holy Spirit who can access their minds and hearts the way I cannot. My hope is in Christ who gave me the Commission to “go”, to “make” disciples, to “teach” His commandments. So, when I feel the weight of the hard work I have before me, I pray. I plead with Christ to fill my heart with His love so I can love them more. I plead with the Spirit to help me know what is in their minds and hearts. I plead with God to grant me wisdom that I may know what the best thing for them is.

 

We’re not all called to invest in full-time occupations serving the special needs community. But we are all called to “love your neighbor as yourself”—the second commandment (Mark 10:31). So perhaps we could begin right there, to pray that our love for God would overflow to the people around us—so that we will not judge them by how they behave on the outside, which school they come from, how well they can speak, or how much they can contribute to society. Let us seek to love people with autism as Christ loves us.

The Girl I’ll Never Forget

I had barely turned 17 that fall in 2015. Newly arrived in Hungary for Bible college, I accompanied a group of pastors and students that were going to one of the many refugee camps at the Serbian border to help with relief and supplies.* 34 hours working non-stop. Those hours are mostly a blur now, but the devastation I witnessed will forever be etched in my mind. 

The smell of human waste, the windy cold air, and my shoes caked in mud. My brain is trying to catch up with all the things I’ve seen tonight, but I can’t seem to fully comprehend the extent of this pain.

After midnight, my friend and I took a break from the camp area where there were thousands of people, and started walking through one of the corn fields. Soon, we came upon a family and a young girl, very clearly pregnant, laying on the ground, her mother propping her up from behind. I stayed with the family while my friend went to get a doctor. I can’t explain the fear and alertness I saw in the young girl’s eyes. I couldn’t even begin to understand what she must be feeling: fatigue, exhaustion, panic.

Oh dear one, the things you must have been through.

This girl, very likely my own age, had left her country and fled for her life, and for the one she carried within her. She must have yearned for hope in a new land, a better life for her and her little one.

If only I could hold you close and protect you from all this evil.

She had trekked across mountains, forests, cities, borders, perhaps even waters to reach a safe haven. She could have very likely been killed in her country, along with her family, and that’s why they were here, that’s why they’d left everything behind, simply to save their lives.

God forgive me for complaining over inconveniences in my own life.

I wanted to offer some form of comfort to this poor girl lying on the ground in front of me, a pool of blood slowly forming around her. I knew what was going on, but I didn’t want to cause more panic. She wouldn’t remove her gaze from me, and I physically ached to be able to communicate in her own language. But as I looked back into her eyes, I found the words “Jesus loves you” coming out of my mouth. They were in English, but nevertheless they were a truth I wanted her to know so badly.

Every part of me is in agony for her pain. Why oh why can’t I do more?

My friend came back with a doctor who did a quick examination of the girl and radioed for a stretcher to be brought over. Soon the girl was whisked off to the nearest hospital. Even though her whole family wanted to go with her, they were not allowed to do so for the sake of space in the vehicle. So I helped get them a large camping tent, food, and blankets as they waited through the night to receive their beloved daughter back.

I hope they understand my love for them. I hope they understand there is still hope.

The hours that followed are still a haze to me. I vaguely remember running back and forth between our ministry’s supply tent and the endless line of refugees waiting on the highway to board buses that would take them to the Austrian border, handing out food and water. I remember helping families acquire camping tents and necessities to make it through the cold night as they waited out in the fields for transportation to the rest of Europe. I remember accompanying little children into the Red Cross tent with their parents to receive check-ups and medicine for those that were sick. I remember pleading with God in my head to help all these families find comfort in Him, and peace as they escaped the horrifying upheaval in the Middle East and came to countries and languages unknown to them in hopes of starting new, safer lives.

I’m so tired, but I can’t stop. There is so much to be done.

And then, news came back from the hospital.

Oh God, please give them peace.

The girl had been eight months pregnant. Due to the strain of all the traveling she’d done and the trauma she endured along the way, she suffered a miscarriage and lost the child.

I remember feeling so numb at the time, so completely unable to process the news.

I’d been there in the field with her when she started to bleed, and I couldn’t help her when she needed it most.

This can’t be real. This isn’t actually happening.

I nearly went mad. In all my life, before and after that night, I’d never felt such a piercing pain in my heart. It brought me to my knees in grief.

There was so much to be done though, so I didn’t have time to cry at the time. I went about working again and tried to suppress my feelings.

Numbness of mind. Numbness of feeling.

The sun rose and the refugees were still pouring in from the border, though not as heavily as the night before. I spent the rest of my time at the camp picking up trash and tidying up tents for the next influx of refugees coming in. The events of the night started to seep into my mind and I replayed the girl losing her baby in the corn field over and over.

I could’ve done more. I should’ve done more!

To my knowledge, the family was transported to a location where the girl was also taken to. I never saw or heard of them again.

As I was walking back to the main tent, a young man who was volunteering with another organization came up to me very shyly and said, “I think you look very beautiful right now.” He took off running and left me shocked and gaping.

What?

I suddenly became very aware of how I must have looked at this point; hair scraggly and oily, clothes smelly and even torn in a few parts, glasses smudged with dirt, and arms covered here and there by mud. All this mess, and he calls me beautiful?

I slowly began to understand. I looked around me. I could feel the pain and reality of what was going on that day, in that camp. And it was bittersweet.

For such a time as this. . .

Many lives have been lost throughout the heartbreaking ordeal that is the refugee crisis throughout Europe and the world. But that night, one life was saved. The young girl made it through. The extreme agony of losing the precious baby will forever be a great sorrow to bear. But even so, the hope of Christ is greater still, and I trust that child rests safely in the arms of the Father.

It took a very long time for me to come to terms with it, but just having been there with her, even without speaking her language, and telling her that she was loved by Jesus was part of what God could have been using on her journey to a new life, and hopefully a life where she would meet with Him eventually.

God uses all our circumstances, situations, and occurrences to bring about the bigger picture He is painting (Philippians 1:6) . I will always count it a deep honor to have played a small part in the events of history at that time.

The Middle East crisis has by no means stopped. Refugees are still fleeing their countries and flooding into parts all around the world, and not just from the Middle East.

This, Church, this is our time. This is why we are here. So let us rise.

 

* In 2015 and 2016, the EU experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants. More than 1 million people arrived in the European Union, most of them fleeing from war and terror in Syria and other countries. (European Commission)

** You can do a quick Google search or visit the World Vision website to learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis, how it affects the world, and how you can take action. As you read, ask the Lord how you might be able to help with this crisis in any way.