We’re in the middle of a national disaster here. There’s a very testy volcano, a hurricane just passed over us, and the rain doesn’t seem to want to let up. There are mud slides everywhere, flooding in the streets and there are thousands of refugees in shelters all around El Salvador. The poor are suffering immensely here, and I can’t help but wonder where God is in all of this.
Today on the news I saw one particular story that has been challenging my heart. In times like this, it can become second nature to turn your heart off when there is such extreme suffering all around. During these moments, may be easier to watch the news and see the devastation and think, “It’s not me!” But I can’t be like that. I can’t just turn my heart off when things get difficult, or when I feel that my breath is being taken away. There is a part of me that naturally enters into the intensity of the moment, even though it is difficult. Today there was a moment while watching the news, that a felt my heart leading in that direction.
The story goes like this...there was a mudslide, and the force of the mud crashed into a cement home that left the building destroyed. There were three children in that home when the slide occurred, but the rest of the family was not in the home at the time. Two of these small children died within the rubble of their home, but one little girl was still holding onto her life. She had been trapped in such a way, that the bottom half of her body was covered with cement blocks and pieces of her house. She rested on her stomach, sometimes crying in agony, as the rescue workers labored to set her free.
The camera crew on this particular news worthy event, made sure to get a closeup of all the action. The collected shots of a rescue worker wiping the blood from the girls head, or another worker lifting pieces of rubble off her tiny body. The reporter also made sure to comments from the crowd.
He asked one rescue worker, “Why didn’t this family leave the house yesterday for the shelter?”
The man replied, “We asked them, but they didn’t want to leave.”
The reporter then found the mother of the child, a woman who already lost two children today, and was facing the possibility of losing this girl too. The reporter asked the mother, “why didn’t you leave yesterday when the red cross asked you?” (You could hear the cries of the girl in the background.)
The mother, in tears replied, “We didn’t want to go to a shelter. We’ve heard of those places, crowed, full of disease...and there’s no food. We decided to stay here.”
The reporter pressed on and said, “Now you have two dead children, and this other little girl is trapped.”
The mother cried.
The reporter went on to interview others, who commented and blamed the situation on the negligence of the family. The reporter seemed to prove his point, and just as he was wrapping up an interview, the little girl was being lifted out of the rubble.
She was calm, yet shivering. She was very conscious, and had an IV attached to her hand as five men carried her away on a straight board. As she was being taken way, the reporters final comments on the situation were something towards the effect of, “Due to parents negligence, two children paid the price with their life, while this young girl will face pain.”
I watched this whole story unfold for five minutes, and then I saw it repeated on the next newscast. I found myself being more and more angry with that reporter. He was a man of privilege, at least to an extent. He had a steady job. His home probably isn’t in danger. And he will probably not have to spend his evening in a shelter tonight (unless of course, there is a big story there). And he will probably have a shower a good meal when he goes home tonight.
He is in a position of comfort, a place where it is easy to criticize others. But at a time like this, his privileged criticism was graphic and heartless (in my mind at the time).
The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t really matter what choice the parents made in the past. The reality was, there was a mud slide, that no one could control, and there was a girl in pain that needed more support and encouragement than a group of voyeuristic reporters looking for a good story.
The story that the reporter wasn’t telling was this...
There are shelters all over the city and the country, and the list of refugees keeps growing everyday. Despite nation wide collections of clothing, food and medicine, there is still not enough to meet the needs of the people. The shelters are over crowed with people who are already poor, and access to clean water and food is like a roll of the dice. People are sick, and unknowingly spreading diseases to each other, as they are in such cramped quarters, and they have no where else to go.
There reporters aren’t telling that story too often. They prefer the graphic details of people being crushed by buildings, or swept away by a flood. They forget about the dignity of the people, and the real humanity of all of this. The reality is, it is the poor who are suffering here in El Salvador. And if Christians want to talk about the crucified Christ, he is here today in the midst of all this destruction and pain. The cries of a young girl pinned down by cement, is Christ speaking to our hearts, and begging us to give a damn, because his daughter, who he loves, is suffering.
I think if we are honest with ourselves, and the reality around us everyday, we have the ability to see Christ in everything. We have the ability to discern his voice in a difficult situation, and face the challenges that are put in front of us. It is the voice of Christ that encourages us to ask questions, while still leaving room for the dignity of those around us.
I see poverty every day here, and it is hard for me to not engage my heart. I have seen many of these things before, but today this little girl will serve as a reminder for me.
I will remember how she and her family were not treated with dignity.
I will remember the calm demeanor of the little girl, and her cries of pain.
I will remember the choices that were made by the girl’s family, and remind myself that often the poor are trapped between inhumane conditions on both sides.
I will remember that Christ was present, although I couldn’t necessarily identify him.