Friday, July 27, 2007

Why Are They Crying?

by Pauline Jasudason
July 10, 2003


My cousin Angie and her husband Terence were married last November. I was one of the bride’s maids. We wore burgundy – the colour of rich wine, the colour of a new heady life.

After getting to know him over a period of two years, the witty, nonsensical and sometimes rather tactless Terence slowly became both a brother and a friend. When he was wooing Angie – or perhaps, wooing the family – he used visit my uncle’s home and hit us with a ‘3-stop strategy’.

First stop: Living room. Sit with Uncle and watch CNN or Discovery Channel. Have intelligent conversation about state of the world. Use advantage of being a journalist in one of the local dailies. Offer keen observations, analysis of news.

Second stop: Dining area. Produce bottles of wine and other goodies. Join the chatter over dinner, win over the sibling and cousins.

Third stop: Kitchen. Wash dishes. Help clean up. Impress my Auntie.

Yes, it worked.

I was hanging out with my church youth Palm Sunday morning when I received a call: Terence, who was then reporting from Iraq with a Malaysian media team, was missing – possibly abducted by rebels. It crossed my mind that we may never see him again.

A few minutes after I met her, the outwardly composed yet dazed-looking Angie slumped onto my shoulder, huge sobs racking through her body. I had too few words of comfort to offer.

Why does God not ask?

The prophet Job groused:
"Why doesn't God inquire about what happens?
Why do his faithful never see his justice?
The wicked remove landmarks and pasture stolen flocks.
They drive away the orphan's ass and for a pledge take
the widow's ox.
They force the needy off the road
and drive the poor into hiding.
In the city, the dying groan, and the wounded cry out for help
but God pays no attention."
Job 24: 1-4, 12 Christian Community Bible

The verses read like a tirade against a God who turns a blind eye toward the oppressed. More importantly, though, the passage in Job 24: 1-12 starkly exposes the kind of evil we are capable of unleashing upon each other.

In a story I am reading, a fictional Jewish patriarch who survived concentration camps and Nazi cruelty tells his granddaughter: "People said to me, ‘Where was God in the camps?’ My reply was always the same: ‘Where was man?’"

Where is man when ruined lives are chalked up as collateral damage, when mass human killing spirals downward into a mechanical exercise? Where is man when people cry in - and because of - Iraq, Aceh, Burma, Kampung Medan?

Surely there is something we can do, aside from reading pro- and anti- violence media reports, debating current issues over teh tarik, becoming a cynical pessimist, or mentally switching the "off" button to submerge into our safe, 9-to-5 lives?

Who will comfort them?

A verse in Sting's peace anthem "Fragile" says:
"If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one,
drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away,
but something in our minds will always stay.”

“Fragile” was written in 1987 in memory of an American Peace Corps worker in Nicaragua, Ben Linder, who was mistakenly shot down by the U.S.-funded Contra guerrilla troops.

Over the years, the truth expressed in the song has proven relevant to more than that one death. Americans identified with it during the Gulf war, after the 9-11 attacks. The words resonate through any tragedy: those that suffer and mourn pain will get over it. This, too, will pass, "but something in our minds will always stay".

Because God never really goes away, we have an immense capacity to hope, to pick up broken pieces and move on. If I take the step to offer comfort, I involve myself in relieving the burden, easing the pain and exposing that the magnanimity of God is bigger than the cruelty of man. I get to bless.

Healing happens. The question is, will I choose to be an instrument of this healing, whether in distant Iraq or in my own backyard?

Will man come through?

My sister and I stayed over at my aunt's place for a few weeks, although we heard later the same Sunday evening that Terence had been released unharmed. Simply being surrounded by family helped Angie keep optimistic that he would soon be out of Baghdad and back home.

All we gave was our time, presence and prayers. No heroic sacrifices or fanfare. I discovered that it is really that simple, sometimes. By making choices that matter within my circle of control, I can be a tool of comfort and healing. Terence returned home safe. He shared moving accounts of experiencing a protective God, while under terrible duress in Iraq... but that's a different story altogether.

The family of Mohammad Ghofran- the Syrian driver who had inadvertently driven the Malaysian journalists and doctors into a hostile Shiite shantytown in central Baghdad – was not so fortunate. The armed, anti-Saddam Hussein residents had mistakenly believed the group were Saddam's hired killers from Syria, based on the van's number plates. Ghofran was shot dead before they realised their mistake.

The Iraqi hospital could not preserve Ghofran's body because there was no power in the humid city, and it was too dangerous to make the daylong trip back to Damascus.

Ghofran could earn US$2,000 for a trip into Iraq. He needed the money to feed his family so he took the job, lying to his worried wife that he was only driving to the Syria-Iraq border. His body lies in a grave somewhere in Baghdad. I wonder how many families, like Ghofran's, are still crying. I wonder if man will come through for them.

Suggestions for action

There are many real ways to bless those who mourn. Simple things like extending love and compassion go a long way. They start a cycle of goodness; just like violence and hurt are passed on by people who were once themselves hurt.

1. For a start, can you comfort someone in pain at home, workplace, neighbourhood or within your church? Take time, pray, be wise in action.

2. Church bodies are raising funds to support the victims of war and for the rebuilding of Iraq. Offer financial support. Call organisations like NECF (03-7727-8227, Catherine or Patrick) or the National Office for Human Development (03-2078-3589, speak to Mary Magdalene) for details.

3. The Mercy Malaysia medical teams do good work in war zones and disaster areas. Find out how you can contribute materially to people who receive their medical ministering. (03-4256-9999)

4. War-zone children aren’t the only ones who suffer emotional damage from the actions of adults. Several charity organisations in Kuala Lumpur take in child victims of abusive parent figures. Can you be a friend to one person like this? For a placeto start, try Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd. (03-4256-3941 or 3852; ask for Sister Salomi)


Every Square Inch said...

Great post! I like the call to walk in a redemptive way

Dave said...

A lot that has gone in christian circles about the emphasis on the 'here and now' risks losing sight of the eternal... Again it's possible to hold to both to the hereafter and the 'here and now'