Responding to disasters distant from us

By Katherine Pullen

It has been less than a month since the devastating 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami ravaged northeast Japan and the disaster has already seemingly faded to the background of the U.S. consciousness. We’ve moved on to speculations of war in the Middle East and concerns about oil supplies, but as the price at the pumps rises ever closer to the $4 mark, the Japanese death toll, now close to 12,000 people, continues to mount silently upward.

We want to care; we want to feel compassion. But sometimes, even as Christians, feeling true concern for a distant tragedy that has little consequence on our own lives is difficult.

Our lives as American college students are overloaded with media content. We are bombarded with hundreds of images every day on television, on billboards, in video games, movies, magazines and newspapers. We filter through so many images that it becomes difficult at times to completely separate fiction from reality.

It is understandable that we find ourselves desensitized to images of disasters. Because of the fabricated graphic images we are constantly exposed to in the media, when we see actual images of a people in crisis, they lose the shock value. We have seen it all before — and worse ­— on television.

We are also plagued with disaster fatigue, as lately it seems one disaster follows another and another. The Japanese tsunami has been swiftly followed by nuclear crisis. It was preceded earlier this year by an earthquake that ravaged Christchurch, New Zealand. Last year, disastrous earthquakes struck Chile and Haiti. Even further back, we remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the destruction of large regions of Southeast Asia by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

At some point, we become weary of the bad news and weary of giving our money and time in response. Just as Christ warned us not to in Galatians 6:9, we have become weary in doing good. As Christians, we need to fight against these tendencies of our culture, our human nature and our own selves. We need to seek a Christ-centered response to human disaster.

In Luke, Christ talks about a man who is beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. The man’s race, his social position, his religious belief and his economic status are never mentioned. Nonetheless, Christ calls him a “neighbor” and suggests that, though “holy” men made the decision not to offer him aid, the Samaritan was the most righteous because he had compassion on the man and unselfishly looked after his every need.

As Christians, we must respond to Japan’s immediate crisis, the continuing struggle in Haiti and any future disasters with continual compassion. The people who have died, those who are missing and those who are merely “beaten up” are our neighbors. Christians must be the last to become weary in showing compassion, the last to stop caring for the hurting. God allows us the privilege to be used by him as a neighbor to the hurting, to show his love and compassion in times of disaster. We should not take that privilege lightly.

To donate to Red Cross disaster relief in Japan, visit or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. To donate to Baptist Global Response relief efforts in Japan or continuing relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti, visit

About Cardinal & Cream 1009 Articles
The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.