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When Half My Home Burned Down

Written By Debora Asima Rohayani, Indonesia, Originally In Bahasa Indonesia

17 September 2015 is a day I will never forget. On that day, my aunt’s house was burned down in a fire accident. Our house was right beside hers, so half of it was also consumed by the flames. I was at work when I received a phone call informing me about this disaster. I ran home as soon as I could.

When I arrived at the scene, I realized that my aunt’s house had completely burned down—nothing survived. What made it worse was discovering my twin nieces—who were only two years old—were also caught in the fire and lost their lives. As I took in the damage from this accident, my heart broke into pieces, and I felt like my feet couldn’t support my body.

My mom sat in front of our house silently, without any expression on her face. I was at a loss for words, but I hugged her and said, “It’s all gonna be okay, mom.” Deep down in my heart though, I wasn’t fully convinced that everything was going to be okay. But I knew I needed to cheer my family up, so I held back my sorrow.

But all my resolve vanished the moment I stepped into my home. Everything lay in ashes. I couldn’t hold back my sorrow anymore and began to cry. This was worse than a nightmare. I began questioning God, “What did I do to deserve this disaster? Is this what I get from serving You in church, praying, and reading my Bible everyday? My siblings served you too!” Without realizing it, my mind began to be filled with such thoughts.

As I lay my questions before God, I was suddenly reminded of Job, who lived a pure and blameless life, but also had experiences and unfair disasters befall him. This verse then came into my mind:

“In all this Job did no sin, and did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” – Job 1:22

Job tried to put himself in God’s shoes to understand what had happened to him—and what he experienced was one that’s too hard for humans to bear. The more I looked into the account of his life in the book of Job, the more I realized that the disaster I myself had experienced pales in comparison.

But still, it was difficult to accept the aftermath of the accident. For days, we had to sleep without any electricity supply since it was burned down in the fire. Our neighbors tried their best to share whatever they could with us, but then abruptly cut it off without us understanding why. For the first time in my life, I slept right under the sky, without any roof over my head. Whenever it rained, we had to take shelter in our neighbor’s home. I was also assaulted by memories of my nieces and shed tears over their untimely deaths numerous times.

I now found myself at the lowest point of my life. I began going into a phase where I doubted God and wondered if I should stop believing in Him. It became even more difficult to hope that anything good might come out of this situation when I heard about the cost it would require to rebuild our house. It meant that my mother would have to fork out the savings she had set aside for my little brother’s education. He would have to give up his dreams of entering college.

As the eldest daughter, I felt helpless to contribute in any way, as I was still a student in my first semester in college. My situation felt completely hopeless at that point.

Just as I was about to give up, these words popped up in my heart: “Do you only want to receive the good from God? Aren’t you willing to accept the bad as well?” These words were like a wake-up call for me. From my point-of-view, it was clear that what I had experienced was so bad and unfair that I couldn’t see any good from it. But what if I saw it from God’s point-of-view?

I immediately regretted the thoughts I had entertained in my head, and my demands that God understand my feelings. I believe that nothing happens in this life without His permission. So instead of giving up on Him at my lowest point, I should be building my trust in Him. I needed to learn to be like Abraham, who “believed against hope” (Romans 4:18) and trusted God to fulfill His promises to him.

After I resolved to do this, my perspective and view of my situation changed. Months after the disaster, I felt God’s hand of protection over me and my family. Although we went through many tears and sacrifices, and were on the brink of giving up, God comforted us and reminded us that He will never leave nor forsake us.

I thought back to how my mother has been the sole breadwinner of our family for the past 15 years after my father passed away, and was reminded that God always provided for the needs of our family of four. In the end, my brother still managed to get into college. I began to be grateful for how God enabled my mother to earn enough to support our family.

I may not be able to see God’s plan for my life from the beginning to the end. But I know that God is actively at work in every area of my life.

If, like me, you’ve felt overwhelmed by the burdens of this life, and feel as if nothing good seems to be happening in your life, I want to encourage you to keep placing your trust in Jesus Christ. He has proved His love for us by defeating the power of death on the cross. And He is able to help us overcome our temporary troubles.

I might have experienced many disasters and griefs in my life. But I only found the strength to keep going because of the knowledge that Jesus is always by my side. We may stumble, but He will never abandon us. And if we hold on to the hope we have in Him, we’ll begin to see the purpose He can wrought out of our temporary troubles. Place your hope in God, He will never disappoint us.

“There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” – Proverbs 23:18 (NIV)

Another School Shooting: How Many More Tuesdays Will I Read About Senseless Killings?

Screenshot taken from The Charlotte Observer

On 30 April 2019, a gunman burst into a lecture hall on University of North Carolina Charlotte’s campus on the last day of classes for the semester. The students were giving final presentations when the gunman started shooting. Two individuals were killed as a result, and one of them died tackling the shooter in an attempt to stop him.

Though the news broke on Tuesday, it was only several days later that I finally opened an article about it. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding it—it’s just that, “Student Killed While Fighting Shooter” didn’t draw my attention like it used to. It wasn’t until I saw several articles about the same topic that I realized something had happened.

As I grappled with the news of this shooting, I found myself perplexed as to how or why I didn’t pay this story any attention until several days after it occurred. If I’m being honest, once I actually registered a headline, my first reaction was, “Really? Another one?!” After a record number of school shooting incidents in 2018 (at least 23), it seemed I was becoming numb to them in 2019.

While I was still trying to process the impact of the violence at UNC Charlotte, it happened again. On Tuesday this week, only seven days after the loss at UNC Charlotte, another shooting took place.

Another school, another shooter, another life mercilessly taken.

This time it was in Colorado, and prefaced by a dark irony that just last month, the school, along with hundreds of others, closed temporarily as the 20th anniversary of a particularly deadly school shooting known as “Columbine” approached. As of today, at least one person is confirmed dead, and several others were shot and injured.

I find myself, yet again, just reeling.

What do I do? What can I say? How can this happen? Why does this happen?

 

I can honor victims and their family in my response

I realize that I have no idea how to answer any of these questions. And that’s exactly why I feel myself becoming more numb to such news. Tragedies are horrible, and it’s easier to turn a blind eye than to engage with them. This is perpetuated by the fact that most of us feel utterly helpless when it comes to responding to tragedies.  Personally, I don’t feel like I can do anything to affect the situation positively, so I tend to give an article a casual read, then turn my mind to other things. However, something about a school shooting happening two Tuesdays in a row convinced me of one thing: I must not become numb.

The minute I stop reading the stories of parents grieving the senseless loss of their sweet child, or listening to the accounts of eyewitnesses, or hearing about how students and teachers are grieving the loss of any semblance of security in their place of study or work, is the minute I start the process of not caring. I need to listen to and read these stories, because I need to acknowledge the reality before me.

The reality is that though school should be a safe place where students can learn and feel protected, it has instead become a place where they’re practicing active shooter drills and listening for loud sounds that may indicate the worst-case scenario they have trained for. In acknowledging this, I pray that God helps me understand how I’m supposed to respond to it.

 

I can re-think how I’m praying

I think part of my response must include prayer. And that can often feel minor, empty, or like it just isn’t enough. But another thing I’ve remembered during these tragic couple weeks is that prayer is one of the most powerful things I can do. Prayer connects me to an all-powerful God who is able to provide peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), even in desperate situations. I am comforted in knowing that the Lord listens to the cry of the righteous. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34: 15-18), and it’s worthwhile to spend time calling on Him. Prayer is vital, but I’ve been challenged to reconsider how I pray about something like a school shooting.

Do I simply pause to muse over it just long enough to offer up a simple prayer asking God to comfort everyone affected, and then move on to checking my email, or responding to a text message?

Or am I taking time to learn about the pain that I need to pray God heals?

Do I let the senselessness of it all inspire a desperate cry to God for restoration and peace that only He can bring?

Because I know that my God is the author of life. In fact, He sent Jesus to the cross so that us sinners could have abundant life in eternity (John 10:10). These violent school shootings are the manifestation of death and injustice in our world today. . . the stark opposite of the life that will define the restored world that God will bring (Revelation 21:1-4). They are senseless, often random, and without an identifiable motive. I have found that turning to prayer when I see death and injustice helps me to set my mind on the promised life in the new heaven and earth.

Understanding that situations like school shootings also break God’s heart and go against His ultimate plan for eternal life shifted my response to such tragedies. Instead of allowing my heart to become numb to these senseless shootings, I decided to take some time out to pray.  As I engage with the pain and grief of those affected by this tragedy, it helps me to pray more often and genuinely. As I take time to hear stories of parents who spent hours not knowing if their children were still alive, it helps me know how to pray for them. Taking time to learn about these tragedies also helps align my heart more decidedly to God’s plan for ultimate restoration and life. That alignment inspires me to pray for the pain, hurt, and violence that I see all around me on a daily basis, whether big or small.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the lives that were lost and forever changed as a result of the recent school shootings in the U.S. I also hope that you are encouraged to engage with the reality of pain and grief that I am certain surrounds you as well. Let the engagement settle your hearts on the life and restoration that God values and plans to bring to this world. And remember that when you feel helpless, prayer is powerful.

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.

Finding Beauty in My Tragedy

Written By Emily Razzi, USA

In my brief 22 years of living, I have known brokenness in too many ways: sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, bullying, anorexia, and suicidal thoughts. Some of it was inflicted on me, some self-inflicted and some of it was a result of not living in line with the Word of God and understanding the Father’s abundant love.

Centuries ago, in a garden, man was deceived by one lie from the serpent: God isn’t who He says He is. Once the lie was believed, disobedience came into the picture. Eventually, shame wrapped us in a garment of fig leaves, breaking our relationship with the One who gave us our very breath.

But in that heart wrenching and incredibly frustrating story, God still brought forth beauty, by showing us His redemptive love and giving us glimpses of goodness and beauty in this world. I love the beauty of His creation. The artistic side of me adores being outside, enjoying nature and looking for ways to create. This is one of the many ways I see myself “made in His image”. I love taking leaves, pine cones, sticks, flowers—you name it—and turning them into beautiful crafts.

I remember hearing the crunch beneath my feet last fall as I walked on broken leaves. Some leaves had holes from the effects of nature, whereas others were stepped on, torn apart, and left in the dust. Brokenness is to be expected in a sinful world. People are broken and remain so when they do not come to God and trust Him to create beauty.

Looking down, I longed to bring beauty out of that lifeless foliage. I think that’s how God sees us. He sees possibility and hope in a way that only He can. He sees beauty emerging from every gaping hole and frayed edge that we desperately try to hide. This is a beauty that He desires for us and delights in giving to us—but first, we must be willing.

The past catches up

The same fall I trekked through these broken leaves, my past of being sexually abused was brought back through nightmares. I started having flashbacks. Lies surrounded me and grew louder each day. “It’s your fault. You are disgusting. You’ll never be good enough.” The darkness filled my heart, even though I wasn’t even at fault; I was the victim. I knew there was another layer to this that I needed to deal with. So I left my bible college and headed back home to receive help for my trauma from the sexual abuse.

How do we see beauty and hope in such tragedy, especially in one that occurs through no fault of your own? And more importantly, how do you run to a Father when you feel He could have, but didn’t, save you in your hour of affliction?

The first time I understood the hope in this tragedy was through a common form of psychotherapy used to help people unpack their abuse encounter called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). My therapist at the time used that technique with me, intertwined with inner healing.

We asked the Holy Spirit to come and bring me back to the memory and to show me where God was during the act. A vision of the Spirit of God holding me and crying with me came to mind and at that moment, I knew that God had never left me. His Word stands true when He says I will never leave you nor forsake you.

I also came to understand how even the truth of being a victim can become an unhealthy lifestyle. Victimization was so comfortable for me, it was like a warm blanket on a cool autumn day. Yes, what happened to me was cruel and unjust, but the Father never called us to a victim lifestyle. That pain and trauma was taken from you and me and nailed to the cross so that we don’t have to relive it over and over again. My prayer is that you’ll choose to live in that victory instead of being bundled up in that heavy, tattered victim blanket. Cast it aside, step outside and smell the fresh air that is His victory over sin and death.

As humans, we think beauty is only found when the broken season is over, like the rainbow at the end of the storm. And although that may be true at times, it’s not always the case. I found beauty in grieving my tragedy of being abused. This summer, my pastors took me to a conference where we prayed for deliverance specifically from the lies that were rooted in my abuse. At the end of the prayer, the person leading me through asked the Holy Spirit to show me where He was in that situation and where He was bringing me now.

I saw the Father literally breaking down the four walls of the room I was abused in and turning it into a beautiful garden. The Father was holding me at the very age I was abused at and singing over me, “Baby it’s okay, you’re safe here with me, no one can touch you now, I am doing a new thing. I am clothing you in my love you are safe here with me.” I’ll never forget it. The Father knows His children. He knows exactly what speaks to their aching hearts, and in that moment, He knew I needed the safety of my favorite place—the outdoors, a garden enveloped by His love.

Going through these life-changing encounters with the Father made me realize that we are wrapped in the Father’s embrace and presence wherever we go. This has brought me to a deeper understanding of His love and has helped me whenever my flesh wants to believe the lies. I now see every little act as a sign of His wondrous love for us: from the light beaming in from the window to wake me up, to the prompting of the Holy Spirit during prayer and worship. His beauty is all around us.