New year 2013
Year 2013 seemingly started off as another good year for us in Temotu Province.From middle of month of January, our capital town Lata was already buzzing with many activities. A workshop for early childhood teachers around Temotu hosted at the Mothers’ Union Transit at Luava Mission station. A workshop for “Teachers in Training” (TIT) hosted at the USP Center campus in Lata. Aworkshop for Diploma in teaching hosted at the Luelta Motel at Lata.
Our Anglican Church in Temotu started work for the year on Thursday 3rd January. As Bishop of this Diocese, hope for a good year was assured by phone calls from many friends who conveyed greetings and prayers for a successful year. Naturally, the environment over Temotu then was seemingly peaceful and hopeful for a good year in 2013.
Tsunami: How it happened
The same serene environment was over Temotu at dawn onWednesday 6th February 2013. All of us in Temotu went to our normal duties in the morning of that day. I was in my office on that same morning preparing work programs for lent which begins on the following Wednesday 13th February.At about 10.30AM, there was an earthquake. But we thought it was just another earthquake because we continued to experience such smaller earthquakes from middle of month of January.
But two hours later, at 12.12PM, a very strong earthquake shook the office building. I ran out of my office shouting instruction “everyone get out of the building”. All of our Diocesan staffs rushed out of the building. We gathered outside the office and looked out to sea. We saw sea-water drying from the beach at the Lata sea front. Then, we saw huge high waves forming just beyond the reef boundary. Then, suddenly, the onslaught of powerful huge sea-waves rushing up inland and mercilessly destroying villages, lives, and properties.
Tsunami: The damage
The actual occurrence of the Tsunami only took a brief moment of about ten minutes. But the destruction it had caused to our communities was overwhelmingly devastating. Nine villages (Luava, Area 4, Nela, Venga, Neba, Manoputi, Nea,Neboi, and Bamoi) were completely destroyed by Tsunami waves. Eleven people lost their lives during the Tsunami tragedy: one male, eight women, and two children.
Many more homes and properties around Santa Cruz island were destroyed by earthquakes and landslides. Many schools and church houses were destroyed. Our food gardens were also destroyed by earthquakes, and our drinking water sources were buried or polluted and dangerous for human consumption. Many of our roads were buried by landslides cutting off movements between villages and with Lata. At our capital town at Lata, the airport was flooded and covered with huge logs and debris. Power lines were damaged and power was disrupted for a few weeks. The Prime Minister of Solomon Islands and his delegation visited us in Temotu on Sunday 10th February and declared Santa Cruz as a “disaster island”.
Fortunately, the Tsunami only caused major damages on Santa Cruz island. A field survey done by Disaster field workers, aerial survey, and radio communications confirmed that the island groups of Pele and Vattu Regions only experienced sea level rise on the day of the Tsunami,but there were no major damages to lives and properties.
Tsunami: A community response
The Tsunami left a deeply disorientating feeling in all of us in Temotu. The strong earthquakes and huge sea-waves rushing in-land destroyed our homes, our loved ones, and our properties. On that day there was a mutual spirit of working together in our families and communities in Temotu. Everyone worked together to move people to safety on higher grounds. I joined in this “good Samaritan ministry” and used my car to transport people, some of whom were sick or injured, to find safety on higher grounds.
But I maintained a mobile station underneath the Diocesan Head office at Lata as a point of contact for my Diocesan staffs and the Disaster committee of the Province. On date 08/02/2013, members of our Diocesan Management Council met and formed an internal disaster committee for the Diocese.
The committee was formed to
1. Coordinate the Diocesan staffs and families during the Tsunami period. 2. Gather information on the Anglican communities affected by the Tsunami. 3. Work with the Disaster committee of the Province to help those affected by the Tsunami.
4. Make reports on the Tsunami disaster work in Temotu to the Arch-Bishop and chairman of the ACOM Disaster committee in Honiara.
But continuous strong earthquakes hinder us from doing any work immediately. By Thursday 14th February, it was considered safe to visit the Anglican communities to assess damage caused by the Tsunami. Six teams were sent to check on the Anglican communities around Santa Cruz island. The Mission Secretary made contacts by radio with the island groups of Pele and Vattu Regions for information on the Tsunami. My team visited the worst affected areas around Lata town and the western side of Santa Cruz island. What we saw was deeply devastating: whole villages completely washed away. Schools destroyed by the Tsunami or earthquake. Parish Priests houses and church buildings destroyed. Many people inhumanly displaced and forced to live in camps. Our women and children climbing down and up very steep roads everyday to the nearest water source about 1, 000 meters from their tent homes in the hills to collect water for their families. Today, more than a month after the Tsunami, many families around Santa Cruz island are still living in tents houses in the hills because their homes and properties were completely destroyed in the Tsunami.
Our mission in these survey visits is to share God’s love with those in disaster. We shared this same message with those we visited: 1. That God is still present with them in this time of disaster. 2. That the church is present to give care and offer a point of contact to discuss any needs. 3. And that people must have clear minds to understand how they can start to build new life and a new future for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Temotu Provincial government also formed a Disaster Committee and carried out assessment on Tsunami damage in Temotu. Disaster workers from the Province, Red Cross, World Vision, Rotary, Medical, Police, and Seventh Day Adventist Church worked to distribute relief assistance to victims of the Tsunami. Our community response to the Tsunami disaster was good because of the kind support we received from our Temotu Provincial government, our people in Temotu, our friends from Solomon Islands, and our friends overseas.
Tsunami: Healing and hope
Our hope for healing and restoration after the Tsunami tragedy has been assured by your kind support to us in our time of disaster. Temotu people for working together in families and communities during the occurrence of the Tsunami. Temotu Provincial government for coordination of the whole disaster work. Solomon islands government for coming to visit us and assisting us in time of disaster. Our friends in Solomon Islands and overseas for your generous support through relief assistance.Members of the non-governmental organizations and disaster field workers who sacrificed their lives to work with us on the ground to survey damages and provide humanitarian assistance to victims of the Tsunami. Members of different churches for visits and prayers and sharing hope from the word of God with the victims of the Tsunami.
Building on this work of healing, restoration, and hope for our people, the Diocesan disaster committee approved Sunday 3rd March 2013 to celebrate a requiem mass in honor of those who died in the recent Tsunami. I celebrated the requiem mass at the Diocesan cathedral in Lata. An address was given by Premier Fr. Charles Brown Beu, followed by a candle vigil ceremony, lighting candles for each of the victims, a wreath laying ceremony, a moment of silence, and prayers for the victims and their relatives and Temotu Province.
The sermon at this service was based on readings from Isaiah 43: 14-21; Roman 10:5-13; and Mark 4:35-41. I gave a brief explanation on Israels’ situation of hopelessness in exile in Isaiah 43, and the word of hope to them: “the Lord says, do not cling to events of the past… watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already – you can see it now” (Is.43:18).The recent Tsunami has placed us in the same situation as the people of Israel in exile. In this moment of disaster, what new thing can you see God is making in our families, our communities, our Province, and our Church! We must see this new thing in order to appreciate it. Can you see this new thing now?
Our second reading in Romans explains this new thing to us. “What it says is this: God’s message is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Rom.10:8). Here, the new thing which God is making through this moment of disaster is “you”. You are important! You must take control of your situation and reposition yourself to claim the new future that God is making in your families, communities, Province, and Church in this moment of disaster. Our gospel reading taught us that in times of disaster, do not focus on the big issues that hurt: as the wind and waves or the damaged properties and lost lives. If we do, we will only sink deep in sorrow and hopelessness. Rather, we must focus our attention on the simple action of God’s loving reaching out to touch with care in our families and the generous assistance from many friends who have supported us in time of disaster. This is the moment of transformation giving us confidence to rebuild our families, our communities, our Province, and our Church in Temotu today.
Tsunami: A personal reflection
The Tsunami which hit us in Temotu on date 06/02/2013 left with us an experience of deep loss and continued suffering. But with the support of many friends in Solomon Islands and overseas, we are able to regain confidence for healing and restoration to full humanity and community in Temotu. This is our human story about the Tsunami. But what is God’s story for us in this Tsunami? Reflecting on this question, my mind went back to think about the peaceful environment over Temotu at the dawn of this year which showed signs for a good year in 2013. Then, I think about the best plans of work we have set down for our communities, our business, our government, and our Church for 2013. From our human point of view, these plans were confirmed as our final authority for success in 2013.
But reflecting on my experience from the powerful earthquakes that shook us during the Tsunami, my mind wondered to realize that human being who seemed to display much control over life and community became nothing but a mere frightened shadow. The human plans we set as perfect rules of work for our communities became meaningless imaginations. The possessions and titles which give us status and pride in our communities were made meaningless and insecure. Even Santa Cruz island, built of solid rock, and considered a secure home for our human habitation, was made significantly insecure by the earthquake. In fact, everything that we humans can consider as firm and secure became meaningless and insecure!
This experience of the Tsunami has led me to learn new insights into my Christian faith: that at the very point in life where humans want to make meaning of their being and existence and adopt beliefs about life and future, just at that point, there stands the absolute reality waiting to meet us to give us true life and a firm future! This firm and unchangeable reality is God! This God is the “sure rock of ages” who can give us new life and prosperity and a secure future to our families, our communities, our Province, our nation, and our Church in Temotu today.