The Island of Port Vila, Vanuatu was an adventure to visit. Kissed by the sun in the midst of Winter, the locals were happy and the water was sparkling. A beautiful sea playground and delight for snorkelers, it’s aqua coloured waters and natural settings were a treat for any who chose to pass that way.
It didn’t take long though, to notice the effects of the category 5 Cyclone Pam that had devastated the island and it’s surrounds in March 2015.
Our water-taxi driver was from the island of Ifira which is very close to Port Vila. As he ferried us around the outskirts of his island, we could see many fallen trees, smashed boats and roofless homes.
“That is our island’s church,” our driver said as he pointed to a church building prominently situated near the coast of Ifira and still in-tact. “It is a Presbyterian church. Everyone on our island goes to church and at the end of each day, we meet together in our family groups and have worship time.”
“Everyone?” I questioned. Had I heard him correctly? He confirmed his answer quite adamantly. He continued to tell us about the cyclone as we pointed out the destroyed boats.
The island had been in direct line to the cyclone and, noticing how unsheltered it seemed to be, the journalist in me just had to probe a little. “Do you mind me asking how many fatalities you had from the cyclone?”
I was shocked to hear his answer was none!
“We had no fatalities on our island,” he said, “We had some injuries but no fatalities. Everybody survived.”
We were speechless. It didn’t make any sense. From what we could see, this little unsheltered island didn’t stand much of a chance.
Now having had time to look on the internet at the images of the cyclone, I am even more baffled as to how anyone could have survived such an incredibly powerful force.
I know bad things still happen to good people, there’s no doubt about it and it’s all part of the journey, but every now and then remarkable miracles occur and I think to myself, “ah yes! There is God reminding us again of his power.”
My thoughts went to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings chapter 19. Israel had deserted God for pagan idols and had killed the prophets. Elijah was the only one left and had fled for his life. God told him to “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (verse 11).
Anyone may well have thought that God was in the great and powerful wind which came and ‘tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks,’ or the earthquake that followed it. Or perhaps even that God was in the fire that came next (verse 11). But God was not in these.
After these disasters, there was a gentle whisper. The whisper of God. When Elijah heard this voice he knew to be God, he covered his face with his cloak, and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. It was not God’s intention to hurt Elijah, but to speak to him gently, giving him comfort and courage to go back and face what he had to do.
God showed the power of his great love by saving him supernaturally from things that in the natural, would kill him. Through this, Elijah knew he had nothing to fear.
When I switch on the news and see the horrible things that the human race does to each other, I think it is amazing that even though God has the power to wipe us off the face of the earth, he chooses not to. Instead he is gently calling us back to him.
In all his grace, he continues to pursue us. Even though ‘since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse’ (Romans chapter 1 verse 20), people still continue to reject him. Yet, in his great love, he is graciously giving us time to come back to him.
The people of Ifira still worship together. They know the one who is their rock and their shelter and in this their faith is found.
‘You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat,’ Isaiah chapter 25 verse 4.
First published in Christian Today Australia, 28 July 2015
(c) Rebecca Moore 2015