Reaching Out to Earthquake Victims
By Michelle Stabler-Havener
Michelle Stabler-Havener (MDiv '03), an English instructor at a university in Chengdu, China, offers a personal account of her agency's efforts to come alongside the suffering and grieving victims of that country's tragic earthquake.
When I signed on to work for Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Partners in China (MPC) after graduating from Fuller in 2003, I never thought it would place me in an area where a major natural disaster would occur. Since the earthquake I have been grateful for the training that courses such as "Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying" gave me. Additionally at Fuller, I was continually reminded that there is both a vertical (God-to-person and vice versa) and horizontal (person-to-person) dimension to healthy, active, mature faith. It has been thrilling to see both aspects present in the relief efforts put forth by MPC and its Chinese partners.
First, some personal sharing. Recently I spent time with a friend from Du Jiang Yan, one of the areas most affected by the earthquake. Her best friend died. Her family members no longer have work, and their homes were all destroyed. Only ten percent of the buildings in Du Jiang Yan are inhabitable; therefore, the city government plans to redesign the city once the debris has been cleared. Home, for my friend, will never look the same. Since the earthquake, I have frequently done this sort of pastoral counseling -- sitting with friends and students as they describe their losses of loved ones, homes, and ways of life.
On a larger scale, Zhi Mian Institute for Psychotherapy, a Chinese counseling center that both MPC and Fuller support, is working on ways to provide training and assistance to earthquake-affected areas. One option discussed is to talk with university counseling centers to see what they're doing and if they would appreciate training provided by Zhi Mian associates. Zhi Mian workers are collecting materials and receiving further training in trauma/disaster counseling so they are prepared to meet needs as they arise.
From the time of the earthquake, MPC's priority has been to provide disaster relief, whether that is through providing mental health care or by trying to meet survivors' physical needs. Although I've observed that this disaster has stirred up a feeling of nationalism among Chinese people -- evident through their connection between the courage of earthquake heroes, survivors, and rescue workers and the Olympic spirit -- many Chinese are more open to receiving help from foreigners than they were before the earthquake. They are also more willing to work with foreigners whom they trust. Thankfully MPC, which has had a continuous, significant presence in Sichuan for 27 years, is well situated to find out about current needs and to help meet them by assisting our Chinese church partners.
In the past, Chinese churches that we from MPC attend usually focused their outreach efforts on evangelism. It has been exciting to see churches integrating service into their understanding of God's missional calling. This paradigm shift is making the church more relevant to non-Christians in the communities where the earthquake hit.
One church's outreach team shared the following experiences during a Sunday service. A 13-year-old boy, pulled out of the wreckage of a school, had not spoken since the earthquake. Several people from the church sat and prayed with him and his mother. Before the outreach team left the next day, the boy began to speak and tell his story. Another way the team saw God intervene was through the provision of infant formula. Just before the relief truck left the church, a grandmother in the congregation quickly tucked a box of infant formula in it. While in the disaster area, the outreach team came across a family with a small baby who was lethargic from hunger and dehydration. The formula was located, and the family rejoiced. When the congregation heard these stories, they were excited by the reality that they were able to be tangible salt and light to earthquake-affected communities in Sichuan.
There are many more stories to share, but I will mention just one more about another MPC partner, a local pastor. This pastor is leading churches and youth groups throughout Sichuan in relief efforts to provide food and shelter for survivors. They are reaching out to orphans and comforting people by praying with them about their future. In one city in which they are meeting felt needs, 1,000 people have begun attending church due to their witness. As I and other MPC workers collaborate with these contacts, we encourage earthquake victims by alleviating their suffering, praying for and with them, and showing them that their sisters and brothers around the world know their needs and want to help.
To read more about Mennonite Mission Network's response to the China earthquake and view pictures, go to www.mennonitemission.net/Resources/News/story.asp?ID=1264.