Lament for the Philippines


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
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Today’s post comes to us from Tim Krueger. Tim was born and raised in the Philippines, where his parents served as missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He is the editor of Christians for Biblical Equality's magazine, Mutuality (@Mutualitymag), and enjoys finding God's fingerprints in history, culture, and language. He is an occasional contributor to the CBE Scroll, but gave up his personal blogging endeavor years ago after realizing he lacked the time and interesting material needed to sustain a blog. But as time or quality material are less crucial for Twitter, you can find him there (@kruegertw) tweeting maps, puns, and occasionally something of consequence, like gender, faith, and culture. He and his wife, Naomi, live in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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I moved from the Philippines to Minnesota when I was fourteen, but part of my soul is forever bound to those 7,000 islands. When Typhoon Haiyan approached the eastern islands of the Philippines, that part of me began to stir. I scoured the internet for updates. A photo here, a shaky cell phone video there. It just looked like a lot of rain and wind. Not so bad—I’ve always liked rainstorms, and this one could set a record! Haiyan was moving fast, which meant less chance for damage. Nervous excitement turned to hope and almost relief.

Then the rest of the pictures began appearing. The casualty reports began to trickle in. The wave of nervous excitement and hope crashed, replaced by a deep sadness I can only describe as mourning.

I mourn for my home. I’ve never met the people in the pictures, but I feel like I know them. What remains of their homes, stores, schools, streets, and markets looks familiar to me. The giant tangles of power and telephone lines are no different from the ones I used to marvel at through my dentist’s window. I don’t see a foreign country; I see my home.

Usually, when I see rubble, I’m amazed by the power of the storm. Now all I see are the homes, the livelihoods, and the bodies, all drained of life. I see a family who has scraped by all these years, taking two steps forward, now finding themselves three steps back.

Filipinos have a reputation for being the happiest people in the world. Joyous, resilient, and religious, Filipinos are always smiling. But not now. And I wouldn’t expect them to, but it still doesn’t compute. It’s not supposed to be this way. Yet, even through the sadness, I see them on the news thanking God for sparing them. That doesn’t computer either, because in my world, we just complain that God let so many lives be lost. 

I mourn because the sex traffickers are circling like vultures, ready to grab up the desperate and newly-orphaned girls and boys walking the streets. 

I mourn the silence of many Christians I respect. I’m not talking so much about my immediate church community, who has been bathing the Philippines in prayer this week, but those voices that stake their reputations on biblical justice and reconciliation, demand that the church be more like Jesus and less like white America, and call us to enter into the narratives of pain and oppression in the world.  When disaster strikes our shores, they have no shortage of ink to spill reminding us to have compassion on the victims, or to weigh in on the theological implications of so-called “acts of God.” But when thousands of bodies, caked in mud and pierced with splintered boards and rebar, lay baking and swelling in the ninety-degree heat, where is their ink? Where is their lament?

I believe it’s there, but it needs to be spoken more loudly and more often. 

I mourn my own silence. Because I know that if this disaster had been an earthquake in Iran, a monsoon in Bangladesh, or any number of other disasters, my soul wouldn’t be troubled. I’d see the news, say “oh that’s so sad,” and move on. I’m keenly aware of the fact that the only reason I feel the way I do is because this happened to my home. When the tidal wave hits a piece of dirt that I don’t identify as my home, where is my voice? Where is my lament?

I’ve never really been one to ask “why does God let these things happen?” I’ll never know, except that our world is broken and that means death and disaster are always around the corner. I’m convinced God is more pained by this than I am, so let us mourn with God and with each other. 

But now I find myself asking “how am I meant to mourn?” How are we meant to mourn?

I mourn because I don’t know how to mourn. I believe we’re called to enter into the suffering of our neighbor. But I don’t believe we’re called to live our lives paralyzed by sadness. I don’t know how to live in that tension. My sadness is fading, and normally I would say that’s ok, natural, and probably good. It’s necessary for survival. But maybe it’s just because in my world, when I’m tired of being sad, I can exercise my privilege to step away to YouTube and distract myself with other pressing questions, like “what does the fox say?”

So tell me, because I really don’t know: how should the body of Christ mourn together? How do we hold mourning and joy in tension? How do we enter in, yet stay afloat? What should we care about, and how deeply, and for how long? Are we all meant to mourn deeply, or are we meant to mourn what’s close to us, while our community surrounds us with love? I think maybe that would work, but that means we need space for lament. We have Facebook walls, but no Wailing Wall—where can we gather to listen and mourn, and then to heal together, to break bread together, and to serve the broken together?

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Note from Rachel: If you want to help, consider donating to Samaritan's Purse. As many of you know, my brother-in-law Dave, his wife Maki, and their family live in Cebu City, where they have been working closely with Samaritan's Purse in relief efforts. In a beautiful coincidence (?) my sister Amanda, who works for Samaritan's Purse, has been helping to coordinate those efforts. We've all been impressed by this organizations' speedy and effective strategies. 

Other fantastic organizations on the ground include:  World Vision, the Philippine Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Oxfam. Give what you can. 

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