Responding in the wake of disaster

Nils von Kalm remembers the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and calls us to find that same generous heart to provide life-saving aid and relief right now in Sulawesi.

I still remember driving up to Mildura on Boxing Day 2004 and listening to the news reports on ABC radio about a tsunami that had hit different parts of south-east Asia. At the time, the enormity of what had happened in the hours beforehand hadn’t begun to sink in.

It was only over the following days and weeks that the magnitude of the disaster began to be fully realised. Hundreds of thousands of people dead, livelihoods destroyed, and whole countries devastated. I was working for an aid and development organisation at the time, and the relief effort was of a scale I’d never seen.

So, when I heard that a 7.5 magnitude earthquake had triggered a tsunami on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia last Friday, my thoughts immediately went back to 2004.

The devastation in the Indonesian seaside town of Palu in Sulawesi after an earthquake struck and a tsunami swept through the area. Picture: AFP

Reports are saying that waves from the tsunami have reached as high as six metres. More than 1200 people have already been killed, and it is estimated that the death toll could end up significantly higher. On top of that, more than 1.6 million people have been impacted by the disaster; displaced from their homes, seeking refuge in shelters, and trying to access clean water and supplies.

If I can remember what I was doing when the Asian tsunami hit in 2004, I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people of Sulawesi who lived through it back then and are experiencing it again now. For them, this will be 2004 all over again.

This is a tragedy of epic proportions, and for Christians, how we respond goes right to the very essence of what it means to be human. When Jesus was faced with the trauma of others, he responded with literally gut-wrenching compassion. In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus feeds the 5,000, the original Greek translation says that he was literally moved in his gut, such was his ache for them.

Compassion moved Jesus to action, and as His followers, it also moves us.

As Christians, we seek to be more like Jesus; that’s what Common Grace is all about. Jesus called his followers to love like him, to show his compassion, and weep with those who weep. He lived this out 2,000 years ago, and he lives it out today, through us.

We have an opportunity right now to respond with the compassion of Christ to the people of Sulawesi.

When the 2004 tsunami hit, the generous response of people across Australia was unprecedented. As aid and development agencies responded on the ground, people across Australia responded in their churches, their schools, their communities by supporting life-saving work.

And right now, as aid agencies mobilise on the ground to provide emergency relief and life-saving aid we need to again find that generous heart.

You can respond today by giving to Anglican Overseas Aid’s Indonesia Tsunami Appeal, or donating to other agencies working on the ground.

As someone who works first hand in this area I can tell you the emergency response is well underway in Sulawesi. Your support will help bring immediate relief to the people suffering from this disaster, providing health services, food and clean water, and items like blankets and tarpaulins.

And as we respond, let’s pray that – as with the feeding of the 5,000 – God will multiply our generosity to bring life-saving aid and relief to those most desperately in need.

Nils von Kalm is a Common Grace supporter and Christian writer, currently working for Anglican Overseas Aid, a Christian aid and development organisation working in countries across Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Middle East to help build a just and sustainable future for communities living in poverty.