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Headlines dwindle, stories continue


Focusing on the emotional needs of those suffering indicates the shock of loss that millions are experiencing and a growing openness in Chinese society.

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June 5 , 2008
- by Myrrl Byler

NANCHONG, China — Although news of the earthquake in Sichuan has largely disappeared from the news, grieving and suffering continues.

The stories surfacing now focus on psychological trauma. Jeanette Hanson, a Mennonite Canada Church Witness worker serving in Nanchong through Mennonite Partners in China (MPC), met a group of Christians from Guangdong Province whose contribution to the relief effort was to spend time with people who have lost family members and/or homes. This focus on the emotional needs of those suffering indicates the shock of loss that millions are experiencing and a growing openness in Chinese society.

While classes have resumed at many universities, a sense of normality has not. Rumors and reports of additional aftershocks dominate the thoughts of people as far away as Xian. Jiangyou Normal College is the only MPC partner school that has closed for the semester. The two MPC teachers in Jiangyou (Daryl Johnson and William Gray) are now in Chengdu.

Ten-year old Claire Hanson, Jeanette Hanson’s daughter, knows about unsafe school buildings. "Our school building isn't safe, so now we have class in an office building. We used to be on the third floor, but now we're on the sixth floor. There are 66 students in my class, and it's really crowded.”

Claire also says that they have earthquake drills with five rules to follow as they run out of the building: “Don't hold hands. Be quiet. Run fast if it's not too crowded. If it is crowded, run slowly. Take the steps one at a time.”

Claire has also heard stories from others: a young girl who was rescued after hours of being trapped – her first request was a cold soft drink; a bridegroom who grabbed as many wedding gifts as he could during the earthquake and ran away, leaving his bride behind. She especially liked the story of a couple who was planning to divorce but after the earthquake, decided they still loved each other.

Pastor Wang from the Nanchong Church has spent the last weeks in the earthquake affected area, rushing home on Sundays to preach. His sermons have reflected his experience in a deep way. He tackles hard questions: Why are we here? What is the purpose of the church? What do we really trust?

Wang told his congregation that trusting in God means “fear not” because as the earthquake has shown, trusting in anything else is cause for fear. Trusting in God enables us to reach beyond our own fears to see the fears of others, to reach beyond our own needs to see the needs of others. In reaching out to others, we somehow calm our own fears and meet our own needs.

A sister from the Nanchong church told of miracles in the midst of extreme pain and suffering. Several people from the church sat with and prayed for a 13-year-old boy who had not spoken since he was pulled from the wreckage of a school. As they spent time with him and his mother, he began to respond. Before they left the next day, he was beginning to share his experiences.

A grandma from the Nanchong quickly tucked a box of infant formula in the church’s relief truck before it left Nanchong. Later the relief group came across a family with a small baby lethargic from hunger and dehydration. The family rejoiced at receiving the formula.

Jeanette Hanson reported that it was wonderful to see the congregation’s joy at experiencing what it means for the church to be salt and light, channels of God’s love to others. The extremes of compassion and suffering exist together.

Aid continues to find its way to those who need it most in Sichuan. While what we are able to share seems so little in the face of such immense need, the individual stories of gratefulness make our gifts worthwhile.

Myrrl Byler is the Director of Mennonite Partners in China, an organization that carries out various exchange and assistance programs in China as a partnership among Eastern Mennonite Missions, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network.

Contributions for earthquake relief can be made to Mennonite Church Canada Witness (Note: Please enter "China Fund - Sichuan Earthquake Appeal" in the Message box), or Mennonite Central Committee.