Peace and Prosperity

Singapore — In a matter of days or weeks the relief operation will give way to another phase, recovery. Relief continues to be a priority right now and it’s anyone’s guess about how long it will continue.

However,
the hard part will have only started. With recovery, it will not get much
easier. Lost and orphaned children already require care. But schools must be
re-built. Teachers trained. Trauma counseling needed. The reconstruction of
housing, roads, bridges, basic services, schools and businesses is formidable
and has yet to begin.

Already the
government reports receiving complaints that the cellular telephone system is
not functioning uniformly in affected
areas.

With the infrastructure
destroyed across much of the region and hundreds of thousands displaced, the
tedious task of relocation will be done individual-by-individual,
family-by-family. And this list is only part of the human services that will be
needed.

This is one of the most
massive dislocations of people I’ve seen in years of reporting on such events.
Among many questions that will arise, one will be, “Where will the displaced go
and what will they do?”

An article in this morning’s The Straits Times, a Singapore daily, makes the case that this is an opportunity for putting to rest old wounds and recent feelings of neglect among the people in Aceh province in Indonesia where an armed separatist movement has struggled with the government for years.

According to journalist Michael Vatikiotis, a reporter for The Times, the people want peace and economic development more than secession. Aceh needs an economic plan, he writes.
They
are more concerned to have a voice, functioning infrastructure and education for
their children than armed conflict. Addressing these basic needs will be the
benchmarks by which success can be measured, he
says.

What strikes me about the
desires Vatikiotis attributes to the people is that they are not only very
basic, they’re universal. What most of us want is a voice, a vote, a chance to
learn and a living wage.

Put another
way, the recovery will be about human dignity, self-determination and freedom
from grinding poverty. These values are inherent in the teachings of Christian
faith. When Jesus identified with the poor and recognized those who were
ostracized by the larger society, he taught values through concrete action.

To those who were forgotten, he
said, “You belong to God. To those whose dignity had been compromised, he said,
“You are the reflection of God.” To those who had lived deceitfully and
dishonestly, he said forgiveness is real and hope for new life is within your
reach.

And he said if we serve the
needs of the poor, the grief-stricken, the imprisoned and the forgotten, it is
the same as serving God.

I make no
case for myself as an academic theologian, but my world-view is shaped by my
understanding of Christian faith, and the desires Vatakiotis writes about are so
deeply compatible with the teachings of the Christian faith that they seem
organically connected.

Struggle as
we will to answer why this tragedy happened, we will finally never be able to do
so with satisfaction. It’s more likely, in my opinion, that we can bring
healing and hope, even without answers to this big question.

That doesn’t mean I think the
church should be converting Muslims to Christianity through humanitarian
service. That form of proselytizing is not only disrespectful, it is a formula
for conflict that could up-end the creation of a truly pluralistic society in
the region. But I do think that it is natural for Christians to work in
partnership with others of goodwill to improve the quality of life for everyone,
and this is, in its own way, an effective witness, if one needs to use that
term.

What I think it means is
standing with them during the difficult times ahead. Partnering in a way that
enables them to find solutions to the problems they face suitable to their own
cultures and sustainable within their economies for the long-term. It means
working with them in a relationship of respect that allows room for healing,
growth and development of new skills to live more productively in this new
day.

Coming from a church that
honors the teachings of John Wesley, a reformer in 18th century England, who
taught that faith and concrete expressions of service are interrelated, it seems
that taking note of the desires of the people in Aceh province and working in
partnership with them is more than a call to social reform, it is an expression
of a ministry of service. I think it’s an act of faithfulness, even if the word
faith is never spoken.

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