Last week a town that I used to call home, and many people in it that I knew and loved, died.
I lived in a sweet little seaport town called “La Ceiba,” on the northern Caribbean coast of
My job in those days was doing research on the work of development agencies in
I lived in a tiny upstairs apartment on
Next door was my barber, Alfonso, who was an immigrant from
Down the street from Alfonso was the Parque Infantil, the “Children’s Park.” When I would get home early, I liked to go by there and sit on a bench and watch the kids play while I fed the pigeons. And across the street from the park was my favorite lunch place, La Pizza Barrata, “The Cheap Pizza.”
Periodically a homeless man named Jorge would offer to sell me items that he had acquired in his travels, like maps, post cards, and movie tickets. One time he sold me a discount coupon at The Cheap Pizza. We shared the pizza and had a great time. I loaned him twenty Limpiras one time to buy a litter box for his cat. Months later I got a letter from him apologizing for the delay in repaying the loan. In the envelope was twenty Limpiras’ worth of discount pizza coupons.
Just outside of town was a clinic set up by Dr. Joyce Baker, a United Church of Christ missionary in
I also met a woman who hosts American doctors, as they come to give free medical help to the poor. And a man who came La Ceiba as a Peace Corp worker but stayed on to teach teaching poor kids how to start their own businesses. And a retired banker from
On Monday, October 26, Hurricane Mitch ran over the top of Ceiba. It stalled for six days dropping as much as four inches of rain per hour. Fifty rivers over flowed their banks. Every building from the shore through the Parque Infantil were entirely covered by water. My friend’s home on the beach is gone. The villa is gone. The Dunkin Donuts is gone. The barber shop, Cheap Pizza, and the park are all gone. The mighty Ceiba, securing the earth, disappeared. The clinics, that Dr. Baker had labored to build for twenty years, are all gone. Destroyed.
On Saturday, the rain hit
One out of every three buildings in the country no longer exist. Every major road is destroyed, Every airport. Every major power line. Seventy percent of the economic production is ruined. At least twelve thousand people, real people, so far have died, thirteen thousand people are unaccounted for, most of whom will eventually die. Over one million people are in shelters.
On Sunday a rain-filled crater lake in
One reason I retell this story is to grieve over the loss of a lot of friends who I will never see again. I can barely stand to think about them. The second is to say as a statement of faith, that God did not create Hurricane Mitch. There is a cruel theology that says that if someone dies it is because God did it, either to punish us, or to teach us a lesson. “God had a reason for ‘taking’ my mother” (or father or whoever). But that belief is wrong. God doesn’t kill people. Storms, accidents, and human sin kill people. God is not in the destruction, but in the healing. God is not in the destroying, but in the mending.
God did not cause a teenage drunken driver to kill my father, when he was with his bride to be on their way home from a party the day before their wedding. Nor did God cause my step-father to suffer a series of ghastly strokes that weakened him for five terrifying years until he could only die to find relief.
God is in the midst of suffering, but as its resolution, not its cause. God is in the relief workers, the doctors, the volunteers, and in the heroic acts of people who saved their neighbors and rescued survivors. God’s act of creation is for good, and when the creation falls, God is in the midst of the pain working for the best possible outcome of the destruction.
I’ve worried and cried for my friends. I’ve tried to contact them, but for an interminable time into the future there will be no phones and no mail. I’ve also prayed for them, not with anger, but with hope, that they can find God’s strength and experience courage in it, whether in this world or the next. Perhaps in one sense God is like the mighty Ceiba tree that has watched over the community for generations. News reports say that when the waters receded, they found it still there. Beaten, but still standing. A group of survivors cheered when they heard that. Perhaps in its own way it gave strength to the community because it stood for something larger and more majestic than individual lives and storms, In the end it was wounded right along side of them; it suffered in the midst of all of their suffering, but in the end, it never released its hold on the earth.