Posts tagged ‘Relief’

Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis

File:Homelessness in Venezuela.jpg

Credit: Wikipedia

Venezuela is in crisis.  Nicolás Maduro, the nation’s president, stands accused of all sorts of heinous crimes against humanity.  Luis Almagro, writing for the Washington Post, exposes some gruesome examples, including:

…subjecting opposition demonstrators such as Echenagusia Guzmán to electric shocks, beating them with nightsticks, kicks and fists and burning them with cigarettes. And [the Maduro regime will] continue to douse young men such as 18-year-old Marco Cello with gasoline, threatening to burn him, or fracture the skull of others such as Jorge León, beating him with rifle butts and helmets.

This is disgusting.  But it is also only just the beginning.  Mr. Maduro’s government stands accused of murdering some 8,290 people between 2015 and 2017.  His penchant for corrupt governance has turned what was one of Latin America’s richest countries into an economic and humanitarian disaster.

Recently, however, the heat has been turned up on Mr. Maduro.  Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is gaining political traction among the Venezuelan people and is now recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by the U.S.  Still, Mr. Guaidó’s path to power is anything but certain.  When the U.S. attempted to send some much needed aid to this desperately impoverished country, Venezuela’s neighbor, Colombia, stepped in to prevent it from reaching its desired destination, fearing a messy clash at the border between supporters of Mr. Guaidó, who were delivering the aid, and supporters of Mr. Maduro, who oppose all U.S. intervention.

In these types of situations, there are never any perfect – or, many times, even great – options.  Unfortunately, this reality is often used as a justification for a failure to act against morally abhorrent realities in the name of a cynical realpolitik.

Genocide and starvation are simply not acceptable status quos – not only because they destabilize whole regions by creating floods of refugees, but because genocide and starvation are objectively and grossly immoral.  Period.

Yes, other nations must think and carefully strategize before attempting to exert influence in a situation like Venezuela’s.  But thinking cannot become a conveniently indefinite buffer against acting.  Something has to change.  Lives are at stake.

For us in the general public, perhaps the first step is simply paying attention.  Our news cycles are dominated by domestic affairs – soap operatic machinations of a deeply divided Washington D.C.  Special counsels, special investigations, salacious testimonies, presidential tweets, executive orders, and border walls fill our headlines.  International crises often register only as a blip on our consciences, if at all.  But they should and they must.

In Venezuela, people are needlessly dying.  And as Christians, if there’s anything we should want to stand up to, it’s death.

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March 11, 2019 at 4:15 am 3 comments

The Biggest Humanitarian Crisis In The World

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Credit: USAID

Katherine Zimmerman, a Middle East expert, has called it the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.  In 2014, war broke out in the poverty-stricken nation of Yemen when Iranian-backed rebels stormed and occupied Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa.  Since then, a Saudi-led coalition, along with the Yemeni government, has been trying to take back the city.  Over 10,000 people have died, half of which have been civilians, as a direct result of the fighting.  Indirect casualties are even higher.  Save the Children reports that 130 children are dying every day in Yemen.  Ms. Zimmerman fears that conditions in the country will continue to deteriorate, explaining, “As the conflict goes on, the people are suffering, and it’s to the point now where we’re looking at a cholera epidemic, and massive risk of famine.”

Sadly, this crisis, half a world away, has been regularly eclipsed by a steady stream of riveting domestic intrigue.  But the cries of these victims of war deserve our listening ears and concerned hearts.

One of the most common prayers in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, is that the Lord would hear the cries of the oppressed:

  • “Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.” (Psalm 5:2)
  • “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to You for help, as I lift up my hands toward Your Most Holy Place.” (Psalm 28:2)
  • “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.” (Psalm 61:1)

The glorious promise is that the Lord does hear the cries of the oppressed:

  • “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)
  • “Praise be to the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 28:6)
  • “I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1)

If the Lord hears the cries of the downtrodden, we should too.  So please join me in lending your prayers to the cries of the Yemenis, asking God to bring this crisis to an end.  Pray also that famine and disease would not overtake this land.

In a world where our news cycles regularly revolve around the powerful, it can be all too easy to forget about those on the margins of our societies.  The gospel, however, reminds us that we worship a God who marginalized Himself by being born into a poor village called Bethlehem and growing up as a poor carpenter from Nazareth only to become a poor rabbi who was executed by His enemies on a cross.  Jesus lived His life as a marginalized man.  This man on the margins, however, has promised to use His very marginalization on the cross to draw all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32).  This man on the margins has turned out to be nothing less than the very center of history.

Jesus’ method of marginalization should most certainly inform our mission of reaching and loving the world for Him and in Him.  So, let’s keep our peripheral vision peeled to see those others miss and love those our world overlooks.  For this is what Jesus has done with us.

August 6, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Venezuelan Victims

Venezuela Slum.jpg

As our national attention is riveted on a myriad of local stories, most of which are political in nature, the people of Venezuela are languishing.  In what is perhaps one of the most underreported stories of this year, Venezuelans are on the brink of staging an all out revolt.  Tensions are so high in this volatile South American nation that even the future of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is uncertain.

A confluence of calamities has brought the country to the brink of collapse. Plummeting crude oil prices have pilfered Venezuela’s economy and a severe drought has strained the nation’s hydroelectric power supply, forcing the government to enact rolling blackouts and enforce a two-day work week just to save power.  Along with these troubles, food is becoming scarce and medical care is becoming even poorer than it already was.  A headline from The New York Times says it all: “Dying Infants and No Medicine: Inside Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals.”

Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis is something that deserves and demands our attention and thoughtfulness.  There are lessons to be learned here.

We can learn that corruption – no matter how powerful it may seem for a season – cannot stand.  Like Hugo Chavez before him, Mr. Maduro is a corrupt head of a corrupt government.  By one count, government officials there have stolen some $350 billion public tax dollars, using them to line their personal pockets.  Outside economic factors certainly play a roll in Venezuela’s high poverty rate, but the government isn’t helping matters.  Venezuela’s politicians are stealing from their own people, taxing them into poverty while they live in luxury.  And the people have had enough.  And they are revolting.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the government is “that which God has established” (Romans 13:1).  And this is certainly true.  God establishes governing authorities and we are to respect and pray for them.  But, to borrow a phrase from Job, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away” (Job 1:21).  If history is any indication, the Lord has no problem wresting power from governments that would misuse and abuse their authority against their own people.  And the Venezuelan government’s turn for downfall – with Mr. Maduro at its head – may be coming soon.

It is also important to point out that human crises, no matter how foreign or far away they may seem from our perspective, cry out for our compassion and attention. Scenes of cold incubators and critically wounded people in squalid conditions betray not only the incompetence and corruption of a government that demands our repudiation, but the pain and fear of a people who deserve our compassion.  Stories of people’s pain – even if they’re a hemisphere away – demand our engagement.

All this is to say that Venezuela needs a change.  What is happening there now cannot continue.  Americans, understandably, have not been all too friendly with the Venezuelan government.  And this is wise.  Cozying up to corruption, after all, only breeds and makes one complicit in further corruption.  Furthermore, sending relief to the Venezuelan people is complicated.  What we send often ends up in the wrong hands.  But even with these complicating factors, the Venezuelan people are hurting.  And as such, they deserve our notice – and our prayers.

May they find the relief, the resources, and the freedom they seek.

May 23, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Tackling Terrorism

Credit:  Christian Science Monitor

Credit: Christian Science Monitor

First it was a chocolatier in Australia. Then it was a school in Pakistan. Terrorist attacks have been headline news this past week.

When an Iranian refugee turned self-styled Muslim cleric named Man Haron Monis barricaded his way inside a Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney, it took a police raid 16 hours after the siege began to free the hostages trapped inside. Three people, including Monis, died.

When Taliban fighters stormed a crowded school in Peshawar, they managed to kill 145 people over eight hours, 132 of them schoolchildren. Stories are emerging of kids being lined up and shot, or shot as they cowered under their desks. NBC News reports that one teacher was doused with gasoline and burned alive while students were forced to watch.

Once again, we are left grappling with grieving families and terrorized communities. And even though, in both of these instances, the attacks happened across time zones, countries, oceans, and continents, at least a little of the fear there nevertheless comes home to roost here.

This, of course, is exactly what these terrorist organizations want. CNN reports that ISIS is calling on their allies and sympathizers to carry out so called “lone-wolf” attacks in their homelands. They attacks do not have to be big, expensive, and well organized – as were the attacks of 9/11 – they simply have to be frightening. Fear, these criminals know, is a powerful thing.

Certainly, national governments need to put into place policies to try to prevent these attacks. Certainly, law enforcement officials need to have plans in place to deal swiftly and forcefully with any terrorist attack. And certainly, surveillance of and intelligence from terrorist groups and lone wolf sympathizers is needed so governments can know and foil terrorist plots them before they have a chance to carry them out.

But what about us? What about people who are normal, everyday citizens like us who are increasingly frightened that we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be mown down by a terrorist attack?

The fact of the matter is this: we cannot control what will happen to us in the future. We do not know whether or not we will fall victim to a terrorist attack. But we can confront and control the fear we feel right now.

The apostle John gives us a simple strategy for dealing with fear: “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). When a mad man or a despicable organization terrifies people with a dastardly deed, what is the best way for the rest of us to respond? By loving those people.   Spontaneous tributes to the fallen that have arisen in the wake of these attacks indicate that, already, these communities are banding together to love each other through fear.

As of now, I have not seen any relief efforts that we in the states can participate in to express our love and support to the families of these victims in Australia and Pakistan. But with Christmas fast approaching, my guess is, you know at least one person who, though they may not be terrorized, is fearful in some way. Perhaps you know someone who has lost their spouse this year and is worried about how they will deal with their first Christmas apart from their loved one. Perhaps you know someone who is terminally ill and is facing the very real and understandable fears that come with knowingly being at the end of life. John’s words ring just as true in these cases as they do in cases of terror: “Perfect love drives out fear.”

So love who you can love. For in doing so, you bring peace where there is fear. And in a season when we remember some angels who announced “peace on earth to men” (Luke 2:14) thanks to a “God [who] so loved the world [that] He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16) so we could “not be afraid” (John 14:27), this is most definitely an appropriate mission.

December 22, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tornadoes and Satan

Moore TornadoCrises have a strange way of calling people to faith.  In a day and age where many are bemoaning that our nation is becoming increasingly secular, the devastating EF 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 gave rise to an abundance of prayers and cries to God.  Ed Stetzer paints the scene well in his article for USA Today, which is worth quoting at length:

Times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, “#PrayforOklahoma” quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed.

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex.

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve.  Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected.  News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost.  Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area.  Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through.

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy.

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?”[1]

Tragedies of the sort that struck Moore, no matter how supposedly “secularized” our nation has become, call forth faith.  And, as Stetzer duly notes, they also call forth questions.  Most often, tragedies like the one in Moore call forth the question that Stetzer poses:  “How could God allow this to happen?”  But in the wake of the tragedy at Moore, I received another question that, though less common, is certainly worthy of a moment of our reflection:  “Can Satan cause a tornado?”  When a tragedy strikes, most people wonder about God’s power to prevent tragedies and His ultimate purpose in allowing them.  But it is also worth asking what kind of prerogative Satan has to wreak havoc in our world.

Satan does seem to have some power to cause trouble in our world.  One needs to look no farther than the story of Job.  In nearly an instant, Job’s life goes from riches to rags.  A quick sequence of four calamities, instigated by Satan himself, robs Job of nearly everything he has.  The fourth of these calamities is especially instructive for our purposes:  “Yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:18-19)!  Notice that it is a windstorm that Satan sends to destroy Job’s family.  Satan, it seems, does seem to have limited power to incite natural disasters.

It is important to note that, as the story of Job clearly delineates, Satan incites calamities on a person not because a person is somehow particularly sinful or deserving of such calamities, for Job was “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  No, Satan incites calamities out of depraved delight – he enjoys watching people suffer.

Certainly we cannot know, nor should we speculate on, the transcendental cause of Moore’s devastating tornado.  The most we can say is that natural disasters are part of living in a sinful, fallen world and Satan takes cynical delight in the effects of sin on our world.

But there is hope.  For even if Satan can incite calamities, his ability to do so is severely – and blessedly – limited.  Jesus describes Satan as a “strong man” whose fate is sealed:  “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29)?  Satan may be a strong man.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  And He came to tie up Satan by defeating his favorite calamity – death – on the cross.

Ultimately, then, no matter what the spiritual causes of the natural disasters that plague our world may be, in this we can take consolation:  no matter how much strength sin and Satan may have for ill, Jesus is stronger.  He’s so strong, in fact, that “even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).  He has things under control.  And He holds Moore’s victims in His heart and hands.  May we hold them in our prayers.


[1] Ed Stetzer, “We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes: Column,” USA Today (5.22.2013).

June 3, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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