How should Christians react when disaster strikes?

When Rev. Peter Manzanga learned of the effects of Cyclone Idai, he was overwhelmed by the damage and devastation. Rev. Peter is a senior lecturer of Mukhanyo Theological College in KwaMhlanga, South Africa. He was traveling home to visit his family during the normal term break. His hometown is in the Chimanimani district in the east of Zimbabwe. What he found upon arrival was terrible.
Cyclone Idai is said to be one of the worst natural disasters to hit Africa recently. It moved into Mozambique on 14 March, flattened Beira, a rather large city and harbour in central Mozambique, and then continued inland, leaving a path of destruction deep into the east highlands of Zimbabwe and Malawi. Nobody knows how many people lost their lives. Many people went missing, their bodies still not found.
What Rev. Peter encountered when he reached his home was terrible to see. It was the result of 600 mm of rain in 24 hours. His sister-in-law and three sons were living in his new house. With the exception of one son who sustained a broken leg, they all were killed. One son is still missing and presumed dead. His brick home – about 85% finished with only the tiling, glazing and plumbing to be completed – was gone. Nothing was left of Rev. Peter’s investment; not one brick on top of the other, but just a pile of stones after Cyclone Idai.

To access the district proved to be very difficult, even once the water subsided, since roads have become impassable with extremely deep gullies cut into the tarred road and with bridges washed away.  Much of the agricultural land had been swept away, replaced by stones and huge boulders. Many of the survivors are psychologically and mentally in shock. The United Baptist Church of Zimbabwe in the region (Rev. Peter’s denomination) with its two boarding schools in the affected area, could not feed the children since only helicopters could bring in food supplies.

Rev. Peter states that “the priority at hand for Christians with the backing of churches and the national leadership of the United Baptist Church is to assist with the day-to-day needs for all the local people. Churches responded by mobilizing necessities such as food, clothes, blankets and toiletries from areas which were not affected.”

How did the Christians in the region react? And what was Peter able to tell and comfort them?

“Obviously, people asked questions like: Why God? Does He care? I heard the story of a Christian who wanted to be struck off from the church register because there is no reason to continue worshiping the God that allows people to suffer like this.”

Rev. Peter says, “These questions and reactions reveal our humanness and at the same time they entrench grief, pain and disorientation on the theology of God. Also embedded in these questions is a quest for meaning on human existence and toil under the sun. It is my prayer that ministers of the Word of God faithfully respond to these questions.”

Regarding teaching and responding to the disaster, he says, “I did not have the opportunity to teach or counsel anyone because I had a very short time in Zimbabwe… But as a victim with my family, after losing loved ones and what we had laboured for, we settled for Psalm 46:1-11, Deuteronomy 32:39 and Job 1:20-21. We learned to thank God in the face of severe adversity and still trust Him as the sovereign God.”

Lessons to learn from this: “We can lose what we have worked for in a short time through any means. But even if our circumstances change, God remains immutable and sovereign. It may seem gloomy, heavy and painful for now but the truth is in
1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way to escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Rev. Peter adds, “Christians must learn to glorify God when their circumstances look unfavourable and painful. Even those who love the Lord and serve Him faithfully will suffer.”

Rev. Peter lectured for ten years at the Rusitu Bible College in Chimanimani, eventually becoming its principal. Two and a half years ago he moved to South Africa where he serves at Mukhanyo Theological College. He and his wife felt it was time to move on. A friend told him about a vacancy at Mukhanyo and he applied. But first he was transferred to Harare to start a theological education by extension (TEE) centre coupled with pastoring a church in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. After doing so, he handed it (TEE) over to capable hands and moved to Mukhanyo. His wife and children are staying in Harare where his wife is supervising a conference centre for their denomination in Harare.

After spending two weeks in Zimbabwe, Peter was back at Mukhanyo on 1 April when lectures restarted at the beginning of the second academic quarter. He has continued with his classes.

While Rev. Peter moved to Mukhanyo Theological College to teach, he is also working to complete a Ph.D. in Practical Theology at North West University (Vaal Campus). Sometimes he preaches at a Baptist Church in KwaMhlanga.

Finally, what can readers of this article do to help the people in Chimanimani after they read this article? Rev. Peter says they must please pray that Christians that suffer to remain faithful and get answers from the Bible through the help of pastors or in their private devotions. Moreover, pray that pastors will spent time listening to survivors and draw answers for the many questions from the Bible.

Please also pray for survivors who lost properties and need to rebuild. Pray for those grieving for their deceased families and relatives.  And pray that God will use this disaster to draw to Himself many survivors who do not know Him. Pray also for Rev. Peter and his family as they consider rebuilding, and as he continues to equip church leaders for gospel ministry.

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