Use Your Tears
By: Wes Neal
Our student Iliesa confessed to not being sure what to do when an older man in a village where he was visiting told him that, after the cyclone, he no longer believed in God. The village where the man was an elder had been devastated by Cyclone Winston in February and still there had been no help from the government or relief organizations. “How can I believe in God?” the elder asked the student who was on the counseling team to his village. “Use your tears” replied Iliesa, at which the man started to cry over the destruction of his village for the first time in 10 weeks.
“Using our tears” could be the theme of the three months that have passed since Cyclone Winston devastated so much of Fiji last February 20. The first few weeks after the storm were spent picking up the debris on campus and helping with immediate needs of former students who had lost their homes. But over the last two months, we have settled into a longer-term approach of training people to provide the counseling that we saw was so desperately needed in the worst affected areas.
In March and April, Wes conducted three training sessions to introduce students and faculty to the basics of Trauma Healing. Based on Scripture-engagement materials developed by Bible Societies in Africa, the course is an introduction to basic counseling skills and a guide for helping people move through grief and into a deeper trust in God’s ability to heal wounded hearts. Around 75 students and faculty attended these sessions, most of whom were deployed to affected areas at the start of May.
Eighteen teams when out from Davuilevu, bringing their training to bear on the lives of people in around 100 villages on the two main islands of Fiji. Thousands of people were part of teaching sessions, received home (or tent) visits, and many were able to be relieved of the burden of the storm though counseling sessions held by candle or solar light (electricity has not yet been restored to many villages.)
After the chapel sermon on the day before we departed, Jerusha prayed for us from Luke 10 (The Sending of the Seventy – the exact number of students and lecturers on the teams!) Her prayer that our eyes would see and that our ears would hear amazing things was answered in full.
In the village Wes’ team visited for the first week of May, he prayed with a family of 9 whose house had been blown completely away in the storm. They were sleeping in a tent and living in a temporary shelter their neighbors had built out of debris. And yet after the visit they offered him water and a gift of a cloth to bring home to Mercy (who the daughter of this family had met once before.) In the village his team visited the following week, he sat outside a remote group of homes where one family recounted the screaming of the wind that still haunted their sleep.
The excellent work of the teams that were deployed have reminded us of the importance of the work we do in theological education. One student on Wes’ team shared the experience of the recent death of his own mother to help people find faith in their grief. Another taught groups of children gathered in our camping tent that Jesus can calm any storm. Two others sat with youth late into our last night in the village, talking about the future and answering their many questions.
The teams are back home now, and sharing stories of what God has done through them, but the work of healing the trauma of Cyclone Winston has just begun. Thank you for your gifts that allow us to continue to be here and to do the work God has sent us to do.
We pray that in tears and laughter, you are seeing God’s hand in the place where you minister. We are proud to be your missionaries.