Responding to disasters

by Ray Van Neste, posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008 (10 years ago)

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--The daily news coming in from the disasters in Myanmar and China is horrifying on many levels. Many are discussing what we should do and how we can help.

Most of us, though, may feel confined to the role of spectators. However, as those entrusted with the spread of the Gospel, we should look squarely at the death tolls and the message contained in them.

According to a senior U.S. diplomat, the death toll from the cyclone that hit Myanmar may top 100,000. In China, more than 69,000 died from the mid-May earthquake.

When I hear news like this about disasters, I typically take down my copy of Operation World and look up the statistics on how many people are thought to be Christians in each place. For me, this is always a sobering call to missionary prayer which I then share with my children.

According to Operation World, only about 7 percent of the Chinese population professes to be Christians. If that percentage held for these many who have tragically died, that would mean this disaster saw more than 64,000 people descend into hell.

The same source says that only about 9 percent of the population of Myanmar professes to be Christians. If that percentage held for those who lost their lives in the cyclone, then 91,000 people were ushered into hell in this catastrophe.

In these two recent disasters then we had 155,000 people streaming into hell in a matter of weeks. These numbers are appalling and difficult to contemplate, but we must face them, hoping that more were converted than we knew and then pray and do all we can to see that more of their countrymen come to faith.

These catastrophes ought to remind us of how much is left to accomplish in the Great Commission and of the fact that we must not be sidetracked from the task of world evangelization. People are dying daily without the Savior, and such catastrophes simply highlight this tragedy on a large scale.

So as we see the news stories coming in, let us not simply be overcome with pity and sit immobilized. Rather, let us lay hold of the gates of heaven and pray the Father to send forth laborers into the fields (Luke 10:2). Let us pray that the Gospel "may spread rapidly and be honored" and that believers in these places "may be delivered from wicked and evil men" (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

Pray for missionaries and local believers, that the Lord might open a door for them to speak the Gospel and that they might speak it well (Colossians 4:3-4). Pray that they might "make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel" (Ephesians 6:19). And pray in confidence, knowing that you are praying "according to the command of the eternal God, to advance the obedience of faith among all nations" (Romans 16:26).


Ray Van Neste is associate professor of Christian studies and director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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