Lessons in Love Amid Disasters
Perhaps I am the only one who has struggled to understand the words of Jesus which, to paraphrase, tells each of us to “love your enemy; pray for your enemy; do good to your enemy.” What does that mean? What might that look like? And what happens when we succeed in doing so?
I remember when it was still 2005, in what seemed to be a year of many disasters, starting with a devastating tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004—a tsunami that rocked the world with an undersea earthquake of 9.3. It impacted many nations, including Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and other islands, and had a death toll of 227,898 people. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast of the United States with a death toll of 1,833, and Guatemala had 83 confirmed volcano eruptions throughout 2005 that displaced many people.
During that year, World Hope International and its partners responded to each one of these disasters in some way. Although packed with tragedy, it became a remarkable year full of incredible stories of survival; of people coming alongside one another and grieving with those who had lost too much; and innumerable volunteers sacrificially giving of their resources and time to care for others.
Then came a 7.6 earthquake in the region of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan in October 2005, causing another 87,000 deaths and displacing 2.8 million people. When the news of that earthquake happened, I initially assumed World Hope International could not respond, certain by now our donors would be suffering “donor fatigue.”
At the time, World Hope International had an office in Pakistan, however, and they received a call from the then Superintendent of Police in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, which had suffered the brunt of the earthquake. The Superintendent had contacted him and asked if there were “any Christians” who could come and help them.
Of course, this was only four years after the tragedy of 9/11 in the United States and tensions between the USA (our primary donor base) and this region were high in addition to historic tensions between some practitioners of Islam and Christianity. And yet, this Muslim Pakistani leader had developed a wonderful relationship and great trust with our Christian Pakistani leader, who called me and passed on this request.
I didn’t know what to do and I told him, I didn’t know where in the world we could raise the money to respond at this point. He was so gracious about it. But though doubtful, I promised to see what we could do.
When we hung up, I felt the exhaustion weighing heavy in my spirit. I simply laid my head on my desk and said, “Oh no.” No, I did not pray at that moment; I just gave a sigh.
But then, just a short while later, my phone rang again—and on the other end was one of our donors. “Jo Anne,” she said, “are you going to do anything about these people suffering in Pakistan? I can’t get them out of my mind.” I told her I had just had a call and added that, frankly, World Hope International did not have any more money to respond to disasters, however much we wanted to, and despite being asked.
She quickly said, “Well, would $50,000 help?” Then I fell out of my chair.
“Of course,” I replied, and in a short while she had wired the money. We in turn sent funds straight to Pakistan. Our people, based in the Lahore area, had not been seriously affected, so they could quickly and locally purchase the goods needed to assist as the folks in the NW Province had been directed to meet their needs and begin the transport to the affected area. A few months later, I was invited to come and see what had been accomplished.
By then, that part of the world had made big news, though; not for the earthquake, but as the area where Bin Laden was hiding. Our Pakistani leadership warned me that the area was not the most friendly to “Americans,” but that I would be safe with them—and all the more so since we were staying with the Superintendent of Police himself. So I accepted the invitation and went there.
I arrived in Lahore and we drove a day to the Northwest Frontier Province where we spent the night. The next day we made our way to meet the people who had survived and rebuilt from the earthquake. I will never forget that; the joy and welcome from the community were overwhelming as I had the privilege to see all the good that had been done. People were especially thrilled that we would work with them to put up temporary schools so their children could get back to school and the rhythms of life could at least have some type of normalcy.
As I walked into one of these schools, the headmaster surprised me by saying as he greeted me, “You need to know that we hate ‘Americans’ and we hate ‘Christians.’” But then he lifted his head and added with a slight smile, “but we like you.”
The word “enemy” comes from the same Latin root word as the word “enmity,” which means “intense hostility,” and which is expressed most frequently through hate – and how often is hate tied to anger or fear?
That day, in the terrorist haven of Pakistan that I had been taught to fear, standing face-to-face with those who had in turn been taught to fear and hate people like me, I more fully understood the words of Jesus through a lesson this Pakistani Headmaster taught me: Love your enemy. Pray for your enemy. Do good to your enemy.
This is how we make the world a better place; through the giving and receiving of unconditional love. This turns the tables on fear and hate; this intentional love in action is transformative.
Today, World Hope International is working in 20+ countries around the world to provide those in need with opportunity, dignity, and hope so they can possess the tools for change in themselves, their family and their community.
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