Thankfully, the world's response to the deaths and destruction from the recent tsunami was different than the responses evoked from news we receive about most other tragedies. Unless a disaster is a global catastrophe and seen on TV, we often resort to the most calloused and selfish forms of interest. For example, listen to the typical way an overseas airplane crash is given: "200 plus feared dead in flight 1547 tragedy — over 100 of the fatalities are Americans."

That is a typical radio or television teaser before they break for commercials. I remember hearing that kind of teaser, and there was something irritating about the phrasing that I couldn't quite place at first. It was what I sometimes call "Holy Spirit heartburn" — that "greasy feeling" we get in our stomachs when the Holy Spirit convicts us that something is wrong that we might otherwise accept. Then it dawned on me what the irritation was.

The way US news services often phrase disaster headlines is so self-serving and ethnocentric. Tragedies get seldom get airtime if there are no United States citizens killed. If the injured or dead are not Americans, we often scrape away our concern for them as easily as we clean the bugs off our windshield. It's as if the quicker we get the mess out of our line of sight, the more easily we can slip back into our comfort zone and go about our daily routines.

I hate that attitude! I refuse to brush away the death of someone simply because he or she is not from my country, race, culture, or socioeconomic group. I know we can't let every human tragedy in our huge interconnected world emotionally devastate us, but to dismiss a tragedy because the people involved are not like "us" is sick.

When the Iran Hostage situation was raging 20 years, the leaders of the Northwest Church in Seattle gathered for prayer. While they prayed for the release of the hostages, they also asked God to open the door for them to minister and protect the Arab and Iranian students from misguided "vigilantes." Over the course of the crisis, American Christian students accompanied Arab and Iranian students to class to prevent trouble. Rather than getting caught up in the ethnic hype and hate, they redeemed a horrible situation and even led some to Christ that they met and protected.

As the newspaper ran a story about how they approached this time of crisis differently than most in the U.S., they visited the church and were not only touched by their love for Arab and Persian students, but by their dedication to serving so many people with Cerebral Palsy. Even more doors opened to share the Gospel because they loved people regardless — regardless of race, culture, background, physical challenges ... regardless!

As Christians, our hearts yearn for people of all of all races, nationalities, languages, and cultures to come to Christ. (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 7:9-11) When disaster strikes and lives are lost, rather than listening for number of casualties that are of our nationality or ethnicity, we remember that God made all of us brothers and sisters through Adam. With that in mind, let's realize there are some practical things we can do to be a blessing in these times of tragedy.

  • Pray for the victims and their families in our personal prayer time, in our church assemblies, and in Bible study groups.
  • Use that tragedy as a reminder to be more aware of people of other cultures around us and make an effort to warmly greet them and include them in our activities and fellowship.
  • Pray for God to use us to share the love of Christ with those who don't know him, especially those of different cultures, and especially to those in crisis.
  • God has put us here to be his means of comfort.
  • If we are given an opportunity to serve those grieving or injured, let's find ways to serve them lovingly and generously.
  • Intervene and protect others of different cultures and races if they are caught in a difficult situations in our presence.
  • Encourage our church leaders to support missions to other races and cultures, whether the communities are nearby or far away.
  • Learn about at least one other culture and explore ways of effectively sharing the Gospel of Jesus with those cultures while respecting their heritage.

You see, God is concerned with each person — every soul — who perishes in a crashed airplane, massive earthquake, destructive tornado, overturned ferry ... He's heartbroken for everyone, not just the folks like us. The Father longs to comfort the hundreds of grieving relatives left behind by a horrible tragedy. Most importantly, God has put us here to be his means of comforting, blessing, and healing those who hurt because of tragedies.