In the Wake of Distant Disaster

How to help when you feel helpless

 

My stomach churned as I scrolled through Facebook, watching a video of dark water flowing through streets and destroying buildings and bridges. My friends in Papua, Indonesia posted social media updates on deadly floods that hit after nights of heavy rain. I was deeply saddened and shocked to see photos of a familiar place rendered unfamiliar. So many people—including people I know—lost their homes and loved ones.

This year has been particularly difficult and uneasy for the Indonesian province of Papua. Massive flash floods, earthquakes, landslides, political unrest, rioting, and all the usual issues—sickness, poverty, lack of education—plague the island in a seemingly never-ending wave of hardship.

Meanwhile, I sit in my peaceful dorm room in downtown Chicago, feeling so very distant from Papua, the place where I grew up and called home. I get messages from my friends who still live in Indonesia, I read the latest news reporting on the various dilemmas Papuans faces, and I’m conflicted. I don’t know what to do.

I feel guilty for being in America, in a relatively safe and comfortable setting, gaining a wonderful education while my Papuan community struggles to survive halfway across the world. Helplessness looms over me as I wonder, “What can I even do to help? I’m not physically there; I can’t help with flood relief efforts; I can’t relate to the people who are terrified through all the rioting. I can’t actively serve in the way my friends who work with MAF in Papua can.”

It’s true – I can’t physically be there, but God is teaching me to be present in prayer. Though I’m sometimes tempted to believe prayer isn’t as powerful as it is, God hears. He hears our cries for justice and peace to reign, for physical calamities to cease, for families to be reunited in the chaos.

And so I pray. I pray for my jungle home, for the broken and beautiful place that is Papua. I pray our Lord Jesus will somehow work good through the horridness.

No matter where we are in the world, we must remember to lift up our brothers and sisters around the globe through bold prayer. We may not have the capacity to physically be in the same place as those who are hurting and oppressed, but we can still pray, send financial help, and encourage those seeking to make things right again.

As I go to classes and stroll down the streets of chilly Chicago, my mind drifts back to my friends in Papua and the many tragedies afflicting that rugged, remote island. I could let hopelessness overtake me, but instead I am thankful the same God who hears my prayers in America is the One who moves and comforts in Indonesia. He is the same God who calmed the storms on the Sea of Galilee, the same God who empowers us to serve courageously, the same God who will make all things new and “wipe every tear from their eyes.”

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