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Christchurch Shootings: Hope Amidst Tragedy

Screenshot taken from Guardian News Video

 

I spent most of the weekend in a gloomy stupor as I recalled the horrific incident that had fallen on Christchurch.

On Friday afternoon, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant had opened fire in two Christchurch mosques, resulting in the deaths of 50 people, and injuring another 40. The youngest victim, Mucad Ibrahim, was just three years old. Tarrant has since been charged with murder, and is held in custody until April.

While I was not personally affected by the shootings, as I live in Auckland, I was stunned that my beautiful country, New Zealand, would be the target of such a hate crime.

I had first learned of the shooting while scrolling my Facebook feed, and the opening line of a post by a New Zealand Christian radio station, Life FM, caught my eye.

“Absolutely devastated to hear about the mass shootings in Christchurch today,” the post read. My brain grinded to a halt at the words “mass shooting” and “Christchurch”. I refreshed my news feed twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Part of me felt like I was living in a bad dream, yet another part of me knew that what I was reading was very real.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden called the attacks “New Zealand’s darkest day”. And in the wake of this tragedy, the entire nation has come together to mourn. Radio stations were in a sombre mood, with DJs expressing their outrage at Friday afternoon’s event. Callers to the radio station texted their messages of sympathy to the victims and their families, with many saying they “did not know what to do” with themselves in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

Vigils were held across the country, while public performances and concerts were cancelled. A donation page on Give A Little has been set up for the victims, and $5.5 million has been collected to date. Auckland’s St Matthew’s church lit 50 candles and rung the bells 50 times for the victims of the mosque attacks.

Yet amid the darkness, stories of hope and courage have emerged over the last 48 hours. It warmed my heart to hear that messages of condolences and support for New Zealand were pouring in from around the globe, and that churches all over the world also took time to pray for the victims and their families.

One story that stood out to me was the one about Andrew Graystone from Manchester, who stood outside his local mosque during their Friday prayers in solidarity with the Christchurch victims. He held a plaque that read, “You are my friends, I will keep watch while you pray”.

Stories such as these remind us both of the horrifying reality of the world we live in—and the goodness that still abounds in the hearts of men. They remind us how much we all need that glimmer of hope to light up the darkness we see around us.

Even as news of the rising death tolls have been trickling in, I’ve also seen my friends find hope in the self-sacrificial acts of those who attempted to do all they could to save others. The New Zealand Herald tells of 48-year-old Abdul Aziz, who ran after the gunman with a credit card machine (it was the first thing he could find) while screaming “Come here!” at the offender.

Survivor of the attack, Ali Adeeba, told the BBC how his dad had taken a bullet for him: “A [bullet] went past my face and it burned my face. It didn’t even touch me, but it burned, so I could only feel for the people that got shot by them.” His dad is now in an induced coma.

Sadly, some of them died while trying to save others. According to the BBC, Daoud Nabi, 71, was the first of the victims to be identified, and he was believed to have thrown himself in front of other people in the mosque to protect them when the gunman burst in.

These stories inspire and give us hope because we feel defenseless and rattled in the face of such horrors—and there’s comfort in knowing that we’re not fighting this alone. As Christians, we also know of someone who sacrificed His life so that none of us will have to fear death—Jesus Christ. Because of His death and resurrection, we now bear the hope that regardless of what happens in the world around us, He is our “refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). And one day He will “wipe every tear”, and there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

How then can we comfort others with the hope that we have during this time of grief, heartache, and uncertainty? A verse that is close to my heart is Psalm 34:18, which says that God is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

As a fellow immigrant, I cannot imagine what it must be like to move to a new country in hopes of a better life, only to have it snatched away in one senseless act of cruelty. I can only imagine that it must be a terrifying time for these victims and their families.

It is incredibly hard to make sense of this cold-blooded act, and while not all of us may be in a position to help out physically or financially, we can mourn with those who mourn, and pray for God’s peace and strength to be upon the victims and their families.

Social Media Outage: Can I Survive Without the Internet?

I thought my Facebook account had been hacked when I failed to log on to it this morning.

The disruption was one of Facebook’s most “widespread and persistent system outages”—with the outage stretching beyond 10 hours for some. The timing of the news seemed particularly ironic, considering the fact we had just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web yesterday.

Unbeknown to me, Instagram and WhatsApp were also down since yesterday evening, frustrating faithful users who were unable to access their social network application for hours.

Though I was only minimally affected by the outages as I was sound asleep for the most part of it, I can imagine what must have been going through the minds of those who were affected by it, having had a similar experience just a few weeks ago when I was confronted with the possibility of not having access to my favorite web applications for a few days.

In my case however, it was about the need to have to pay for access (or Wi-Fi), at the Airbnb my friends and I booked at Rarotonga, one of the most populous of the Cook Islands, for a week-long retreat.

The Airbnb we booked had listed Wi-Fi as one of its amenities. But it didn’t cross our mind that we had to pay for the Wi-Fi, so the shock was rather palpable when our Airbnb hostess told us otherwise.

Of course, we could survive a week without Wi-Fi, but what was the point of holidaying on a stunning tropical island, with its white sandy beaches and clear waters, if we were unable to share photos or videos of them on Instagram? Besides, we would need to connect to WhatsApp to tell our workmates and family what a wonderful time we were having.

Disgruntled, we pulled out our credit cards and spent the next 10 minutes agonising over which data plan to buy, and how much we would need.

My experience as well as the recent social outage got me thinking about how far (and fast) the World Wide Web has evolved, since it was first proposed on 11 March 1989, by Tim Berners-Lee.

 

Growing up with dial-up

I was 12 when I first learned about the World Wide Web, and I remember being in awe of a friend whose computer was set-up with an Internet connection. Her mum bought books off Amazon, and she would have the latest novel or a hard-to-find title in her hands.

Another friend would spend days downloading her favorite songs from the Internet using file-sharing services (it took her at least two days to download a song, and a week for a movie, but it was still pretty awesome in my eyes). I also thought she was the height of cool, since she had an account for chat rooms such as IRC and ICQ.

Unfortunately, my family did not have our first computer or an Internet connection until I was about 15-years-old, as my parents didn’t want me running loose on the web until I was a little older. Needless to say, I was very excited when we finally had dial-up, and spent countless hours pinching photos of my favourite boybands off various websites. We eventually had to install two landlines, one dedicated to the Internet, and another for receiving calls.

Looking back, the dial-up was very quaint, with its trademark tone as it connects to the Internet, to the frustratingly slow download times, and its lack of access—there was no way you would be able to get dial-up on your phone!

Now, the landscape has changed completely. The web today allows me to connect with people from different parts of the world, to explore the world from the comforts of my home, and watch shows that aren’t available in New Zealand.

One of the biggest benefits is that it has allowed me to serve God with various Christian organisations that are based thousands of miles away from New Zealand. Over the past few years, I was able to volunteer my writing with two Christian organisations, one in Australia and the other in Singapore, and my sphere of influence was no longer restricted to just an hour service in a suburban church. With just a computer and the Internet, I was able to reach readers through my writing.

Having said that, the advent of the Internet has also affected the way I view life, and even the Bible—and not always positively. Here are three examples:

 

1. It has made me more impatient

The days of dial-up Internet taught me patience, but I am afraid the introduction of high-speed Internet has wiped out that virtue. It has brought convenience to my life—I am able to access any information in seconds, and able to download library books into my e-reader without the hassle of driving to the library and back.

But on the flip side, this attitude of expecting items to be at my fingertips in seconds has also made me impatient in my prayer life. I remember a time where I was not fussed on when God would answer me, but these days, I wish I am able to either WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger God with my problems—and get an instant reply.

 

2. It has made me a binger

Before streaming services were available, I remember waiting faithfully every week for my favorite TV shows to air. Wednesdays were my favorite as it was comedy night on a particular TV channel, and it was usually an hour-long line-up of sitcoms. These days, I barely turn on the TV except to watch snippets of the 6 p.m. news and programs like Border Security and Dog Squad. But oh boy, do I binge on Netflix. I can spend a sick day watching an entire season of a Korean drama or a Norwegian crime-thriller series.

However, I can’t recall the last time I have binged-read my Bible. Admittedly, reading the Bible requires more brain work than mindlessly watching Netflix. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could binge-read my Bible the way I work my way through the series on Netflix?

 

3. It has made me a serial shopper

Shopping on the World Wide Web comes with its own set of perils, such as overspending on the credit card. I can remember a time when I was clicking the “buy” button without a lot of thought, and if I saw a dress I liked on a UK website (with free delivery if you spend over a certain amount), I would make sure I’d qualify for the free shipping. Hidden costs such as exchange rates and bank fees when making an overseas purchase didn’t cross my mind, so I tend to get a little shock when I see my credit card bill. I have since reined in on my shopping habits as I am working to be a good steward of my finances (1 Corinthians 16:2).

 

Reflecting on how the Internet has evolved makes me realize that at the end of the day, it is just another tool of mass communication, and may one day be overshadowed by something else. Therefore, it’s important that I do not let my life revolve around it.

Like everything else, the Internet can be used for both good and evil, but we must not blame it for the influences it may have over the way we feel, think, and act. Let’s be careful not to make idols of anything in our life, but instead work towards a wholehearted devotion to God. After all, unlike the Internet or our favourite social media channels, God will not surprise us with prolonged outages, instead He will faithfully see us through the seasons of our lives.

Marie Kondo Didn’t Make Me Want to Declutter

I have a confession: Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo left me with very little desire to declutter my home.

In fact, it got me wondering what sort of home would I be living in if it didn’t have at least some sort of clutter—like stacks of books piled on my coffee table, or a pile of fresh laundry in the corner, waiting to be folded—lying around.

To me, clutter in moderation, adds a bit of personality to one’s home, giving it a sense that it is lived in by real people, with interests and hobbies outside of work. But I’m not surprised that so many have taken so well to this new series.

Kondo is a Japanese cleaning consultant who helps clients clear clutter from their homes using the KonMari method. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, was first published in 2014, and is the inspiration behind the Netflix series.

Each episode focuses on Kondo helping a range of people—from time-strapped families with young toddlers to empty nesters—sort through their clutter so they are able to enjoy a simpler life.

As soon as I finished watching the first episode, “Tidying with Toddlers”, I did a quick survey of the clutter in my bedroom, and I doubt Kondo would be impressed with the state of my room.

For starters, I have three different bags at the foot of my chest of drawers: one bag contains my exercise gear (three beach towels, three swimsuits, and two pair of goggles), the other is a duffel bag for holidays, and then there’s my handbag (parking receipts and outdated medication).

I have not found homes for these bags, so I pile them on the floor.

My wardrobe is crammed with clothes I have accumulated over my years of working in retail, and at my last count, my bookcase has close to 100 books.

For me, there is something rather nice about these familiar clutter. I like being surrounded by my favorite books, and knowing where my clothes are.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging piles of unwashed dishes to be left in the kitchen sink, or weeks of dirty laundry festering in the wash basket. There is a difference between personal hygiene and simply decluttering your personal space of junk.

So, while Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has not left me feverishly cleaning my house, I do think that there are some principles from the KonMari method that we could apply to our everyday life:

 

1. Material things do not equate to happiness

The first episode, “Tidying Up With Toddlers”, centred around Kevin and Rachel Friend, and their two children, Jaxon and Ryan. The Friend family was struggling with the copious amount of stuff that has found its way into their wardrobes and garage, where they were simply stuffed into bags, tied away, and forgotten about.

Like the Friend family, my wardrobe is filled with clothes, accumulated through years of impulse buying or as a little “pick-me-up”. While I am getting better at controlling my impulse buys, the younger me often believed buying new things was the answer to fixing life’s problems.

But no matter how many new items I bought, the life issues that bothered me still remained once the excitement of owning something new wore off. And once wear and tear got to my beloved items, or they don’t perform the way I expected them to, I was left disappointed.

That’s why I find wisdom in what the Bible says about not measuring our lives by what we own (Luke 12:15), or storing our earthly treasure on earth, where it is vulnerable to moths, rust and thieves (Matthew 6:19). Instead of looking to things to make us happy, perhaps our lives should be measured by how generous we are with our time and money, how loving we are to others, or how willing we are to help those in need. These are the investments that matter and will last through eternity.

 

2. Be thankful for what we have

Before Kondo started work on cleaning the Friend family home, she invited the family to take a few minutes of silence to thank the house for the shelter and protection it had provided them.

Kevin had later said it was good to be able to reflect on how the home “has been a very good home for us”, and the quiet moment spent had him also wondering if the family had done the home justice.

This reminded me of how easy it is to take things for granted—and I thought of the little Honda Jazz that I bought secondhand, and how this faithful wee car has gone on numerous road trips with me and accompanied me to different parts of New Zealand for work.

Yet, I grumble when I have to fill its tank up, wash and polish it so it keeps its shine, and I sigh whenever I look at the amount of money I have to fork out for its annual maintenance. Instead of complaining, I should be reminding myself how fortunate I am to have a car to go places in, instead of having to rely on public transport—when many do not have access to the same luxury.

Giving thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is a principle the Bible also encourages us to cultivate, and I should be more proactive in adopting it. Realizing this has made me complain a lot less about “what a hassle it is” to keep my car neat and tidy, and to appreciate it more for what it can do.

 

3. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t feel like doing

In the same episode, Rachel Friend told Kondo she palms her laundry to a third-party as having to wash and fold her family’s clothes induces her into an anxiety attack. To Rachel’s credit, she did say it was something she wanted to overcome.

Rachel’s attitude got me thinking of how we cannot always avoid doing what we deem as unpleasant tasks. Because let’s face it, adulting is hard. Figuring out what to cook for dinner, paying the weekly gas bill and rent, rising up early for work that you may not always enjoy, finding energy to clean the house after an exhausting day at work—these are tasks some of us would rather avoid if we could. Or even hire someone else to do these exhausting chores for us, if possible.

Unfortunately, life often does not give us wriggle room to run away from our problems and responsibilities. And sometimes it is good for us to deal with life’s challenges as it builds character, such as perseverance, patience, and compassion—after which, we will be better able to relate with our friends who may be going through the same problem.

The good news is, we do not have to face our problems alone. Just like how Rachel reached out to Kondo to help overcome her laundry anxiety, God is there with us when we go through tough times. I don’t think God wants us to back out of hard situations. In fact, He wants to mold us into brave people who are able to see through challenging times (Romans 5:3-5).

 

4. Hold on to things that don’t spark joy

Even if you’ve never seen the Netflix series, you might have heard of what Kondo’s famous for: encouraging people to get rid of things that no longer spark joy. They are to hold the item in their hands and ask themselves, “Does this spark joy?”. If it no longer does, they’re to thank the item for its service before throwing it out or donating it.

However, while Kondo’s advice of letting go of items that no longer spark joy might apply well to objects, there are other areas of our lives we cannot just shake off because it doesn’t spark joy. But the good news is that with God, we can find joy even amidst life’s mind-boggling problems.

The Oxford Dictionary defines joy as a “feeling of great pleasure and happiness”, but the Bible describes “joy” a little differently. The Scripture tells us to “consider it all joy when we encounter various trials” (James 1:2-3)—which I’m sure do not ignite any feelings of pleasure.

I believe God’s idea of joy is less to do with a temporary feeling of happiness, and more anchored on the knowledge that He will see us through our trials, mind-boggling or otherwise. It is the anchor that keeps us steady through trials and focused on the work that God might yield in our lives as we submit ourselves to Him—that end goal of becoming more like Him is what gives us hope and joy.

At the end of our earthly troubles, the Bible promises that we will be rewarded with a “crown of life” (James 1:12) for faithfully staying our course. To me, that’s a goal that’s worth aiming and working towards.

 

Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo may have truly changed the lives of certain individuals, and I am certainly not disregarding it. However, while Kondo’s tips on decluttering our house of unwanted goods could lead to better living on the outside, it’s what’s inside of us that’s more important.

When I was going through a hard break-up a number of years back, I tossed out most of the items that were given to me by my ex-boyfriend, but the euphoria lasted for only a few seconds. Soon after, the feeling of emptiness and betrayal would creep back in and overwhelm me again. But I found my inner joy by going back to God’s Words and clinging onto His promise that all things will work for good for those who trust in Him (Romans 8:28).

So even as you’re picking up tips from the show or Kondo’s books on how to declutter your house, I’d encourage you to also go to the Bible and make space for God to declutter what’s on the inside—it’ll spark a joy inside of you that will last for all eternity.

 

Editor’s Note: Can’t get enough of Marie Kondo and decluttering? Here’s another article for you.

Trusting God In Spite of My Fears

I have been taking swimming lessons in the open ocean for two summers, but I have not quite shaken off my fear of the deep, blue water.

My adventure with the open seas started three years ago when I toyed with the idea of joining my local surf lifesaving club. I wanted to meet new friends, contribute to my community, and I thought the surf sports the lifesaving clubs put out seemed fun.

I had also naively thought that the transition from a pool swimmer to an open ocean swimmer was an easy one. I learned a hard lesson when I signed up for my inaugural 500 meter open ocean swim, equipped with limited knowledge of swimming in the ocean.

I was seized by panic, and had clung on to my friend for the best part of the swim. That was when I knew I was not ready to be a lifeguard, because what lifeguard is afraid of the ocean?

So when I heard there was a workshop dedicated to coaching swimmers of varying levels of open water confidence, I immediately signed up for it.

I found my first few months in the open water rather terrifying, and I would refuse to paddle too far out. If I could not feel the ground, I was not keen on going any further, so I spent a huge amount of time swimming with the beginners.

To make matters worse, I kept having flashbacks to my first 500 meter swim where I was convinced I nearly drowned (I didn’t because I was kept buoyant by my wetsuit and if I had been in real danger, I would have been fished out by a lifeguard).

Even when it was soon obvious to the coaches that I could (and would be better off) swimming with the more advanced beginners’ group, I would flatly refuse. There were two specific scenarios that I feared: swimming too far out in the open ocean that I’d be unable to swim back to shore, and drowning under the watchful eye of the coaches.

As you can see, my fears were irrational, but I guess that is what fear does to us—it makes us entertain all sorts of crazy thoughts.

However, while I can now laugh at how irrational my fears are, I cannot begin to tell you how much I regret allowing fear to rob me of the potential to go further in my ocean swims. For example, if I had not spent so many months like a petulant toddler at the side of the shoreline, I am sure I would be able to enter various ocean swim races held in different places of New Zealand by now.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still no pro, and sometimes the sight of the choppy waters is enough to make me backpaddle to safety. But looking back, the root of my fear was my lack of trust in God.

Had I been more aware of God’s protection, knowing He will have His eye on me, I think I would have been  less afraid of the open water.

Had I spent less time nursing my fears, and focused more on pushing myself, I would have passed my surf lifeguarding course and would be patrolling beaches this summer, keeping swimmers safe.

Fear is a great robber, but I’ve learned that instead of entertaining various morbid thoughts, I could pray for safety, for the coaches to be alert, and for favorable water conditions. And even if the water conditions are less than favorable, then I could pray for the strength to continue swimming.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I should be putting myself out there to do something outrageous if I wasn’t equipped to do so, but that I can entrust my fears to God even as I progress in my lifesaving course.

One of my favorite verses is from Psalm 103:14, where the Psalmist says, “for He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust”. I believe this verse tells me God knows just how frail I am as I work up enough courage to paddle out in the ocean.

But what brings me comfort is the knowledge that the Bible is also filled with Scriptures telling us not to be afraid. Some of the verses that I often think about whenever I feel fear gripping my heart are 2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 56:3, and Psalm 23:4. While these verses do not immediately erase my feelings of fear, meditating on them has made it easier for me to bring them to mind and strengthen me whenever fear starts attacking me.

Open ocean classes resume next Saturday after a three-week break. While I am not 100 per cent convinced I will not balk at the sight of the ocean the moment I step inside my wetsuit, I am determined to trust in God.

For instance, I will not panic the moment I lose sight of any one of the coaches, knowing full well they are positioned at different markers to keep an eye on us. Instead, I will take a deep breath, pray, and continue swimming towards the markers.

Instead of filling my head with various negative thoughts that leave me exhausted even before I start my swim, I will run 2 Timothy 1:7 in my head on repeat. “For God has not given us a spirt of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”

To further fuel my courage, I will also replay my past achievements. There was one Saturday where I managed to shovel my fear all the way back to the recesses of my mind, and completed a 1 kilometer swim in the ocean. I could hardly believe I did it—and I hope this achievement will motivate me to keep going further.

Fighting and banishing fear out of our lives is not an overnight activity. I do not know when I will be fully able to overcome my niggly fear of the open water, but I’m going to focus my efforts on my goal of joining the surf lifesaving group one day.

Fears are big, ugly, and generally rather irrational. I’m not trying to dismiss your fears—I know all too well how paralyzing they can make us feel—but I want to tell you that you can trust God with your fears. Whether you are heading out to new adventures, trying a new hobby, or faced with an uncertain future, God wants you to put these fears in His hands.