In January 2001 a 7.6 earthquake hit the nation of El Salvador. My family and I were working with a Relief and Development organization at the time. We were assigned to help serve, lead, network, and organize in the relief and response efforts. The devastation in El Salvador was immense. Landslides. Destroyed infrastructure. Homeless families. Clean water and sanitation became a matter of grave concern in many areas due to the earthquake’s destruction. Tens of thousands of people were living outdoors in spite of the approaching rainy season.
During this time as we were helping to minister to families, I met a mother who had lost members of her family in the quake. The heartbreak in her voice, even through a translator, was very evident. The mother’s face was almost ashen. Her eyes were shrouded of almost any light or life. The mother had lost a husband and her daughter. That daughter, Roxanna, was about the age of my son today, 10 years old. Her husband was found buried in the rubble after the earthquake stopped, clutching Roxana. Such heartbreak!
This was not the first or last time that I would be confronted in an up close way with the tragic death of a child and others. A seemingly un-avoidable question during times like this is, “Where is God?”
Several months after the quake, Roxanna’s mother told us through a translator, “Sometimes when I call my kids in to eat their dinner I instinctively call Roxanna’s name to come home and then I remember she’s not coming….” As her voice cracked and trailed off and her eyes filled with tears everyone in our group was crying. We were grieving. Together. Experiencing her loss. Together. Moments of intense sadness yet somehow holy ground. God was present. In solidarity with her suffering.
On my way home that afternoon I wanted to walk by myself. I needed to think and process what I had witnessed. In a very rare moment, I heard a voice from deep within me that I can only believe/trust was God saying to me, “Son, she is home .” That was it. In the moments that followed, my heart was filled and flooded with words and music. It was not happiness or even relief that I felt. It was solidarity. Union. As if God wanted to share with me that God was present in these moments. Not distant and uninvolved as so many paint God to be. Not inept and bumbling or callous as others portray God. A portion of what I wrote that day:
Little Roxanna; Sweetest flower, love in bloom,
Little Roxanna; Cut away now much too soon.
Little Roxanna; your mother’s calling you to come home.
Little Roxanna; Your Father’s calling ….you’re already home.
Compassion means literally “to suffer with.” God is WITH US in tragedy, somehow bringing beauty from ashes. There are millions of parents of Roxannas in our world today. South Sudan. Yemen. India. Houston. Florida. Mexico. The list goes on unfortunately. But when we reach out to those that suffer with compassion we are being like “little Christs”. Like Christians.
Questions? Comments? Contact: Chris Archer, Director of Family Ministries