By now we have all heard and seen news about the tragedy unfolding in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. As people across the globe are reaching out to help, I have no doubt that UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is in the thick of things doing ministry on behalf of all of us.
While reporting the story, a newscaster raised this question: Where is God in all this? Here this another true story from the Philippines.
A dawn, just as the Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines during World War II, all the local people ran to the mountains, hiding themselves the best they could. It was imperative that no one make a sound, because if the Japanese found them, death and fates worse than death awaited. So whole families hid in the recesses of the mountains. That is all except one family. The mother was pregnant. She had hoped that the baby would wait until the family had escaped, but her contractions began the night before and by morning, the baby was coming. There was no time. But somehow her husband and other relatives, got her out of the village and into some bushes. She was out of sight but dangerously close to the oncoming soldiers. She told the rest of the family to run, which they reluctantly did. Because they all knew that even if she succeeded to giving birth in silence, the newborn's cries would give them away and into the hands of the enemy.
Silently suffering and alone, the mother did succeed in giving birth to a healthy baby boy. She prayed and prayed. Where is God? When the baby came, he did not cry but went right to nursing. He and his mother remained undetected by the soldiers. Silently together they laid in the bushes well into the night. And that is how the father found them when he came back and took them to safety.
Later, when the family was together, still hiding but this time safely in the mountains, the sister asked,"What should we name the baby?" Without fear or hesitation, the mother answered, "Emmanuel, because God is with us."
I met Emmanuel many years later. As it turned out, he found his way to the U.S. and eventually his family found our congregation. He was a successful professional and father of 2 children. But in his mind, this apocryphal story made him what he was--a recipient of God's grace and a beacon of hope for others.
Where was God? In the courage of people, loving each other the best they knew how. In the miracle of birth. In the silence that followed. In the faith of parents that was instilled in their children. In the will to endure. In the service of people who gave their lives. In the hope for a better future.