Ten years ago, children in South Texas woke up on Christmas morning to a thirteen inch snow fall. The next day, while impromptu snowmen melted in the Texas sun, an earthquake equal to 23,000 Hiroshima Atomic bombs struck the Indian Ocean. The resulting Tsunami obliterated the city of Banda Aceh in Indonesia. More than two hundred thousand people died as a result of the killer wave.
A few years later, I stood on the beach at Banda Aceh, Indonesia and listened
to the gentle waves wash upon the shore while the Indonesian people strolled
along the jetties. It was a beautiful and peaceful afternoon. Behind me stood a
lighthouse. It had been erected as a beacon to passing ships, but it now stood
as a monument to the tragic moment that struck this place on December 26, 2004.
The top of the lighthouse towering above me had been blown apart by the
Aceh is perhaps the most rigid Muslim state in the world, governed by strict
Sharia law. It is ruled by the Koran and the Muslim Imams. It prides itself as
the “gateway to Mecca.” Prior to the tsunami Christians were not allowed
entrance into the region. But the day the tsunami struck, everything changed.
The city of Aceh was virtually wiped out by the force of the wave.
I was visiting with a group of Christians, surveying
Non-Governmental-Organizations that had been allowed into the country to help
the citizens rebuild. Separated from the rest of the world and taught that
Christianity was evil, many of the people were beginning to ask why the Christians
were the ones who responded the most to their disaster. President Bush
immediately pledged $350 million to help with the recovery. Like many Muslim
countries, the people of Aceh equate America with Christianity.
I noticed a woman watching us. She was sitting on her motorcycle. Almost all
Indonesians ride motorcycles. The streets are filled with them. For days I had
watched them leaving for work in the early morning, weaving their way along the
streets, whole families balanced on two wheels, the father driving, one or two
children in his lap, the mother behind him with another child. I watched young
women, their blue and green hijabs flying in the wind. Through an interpreter I
struck up a conversation with the woman.
She asked if we were Americans. We said yes. She told us that she was at this
very spot when the tsunami hit. She said it carried her and her two children
more than two miles inland. One child was separated and drowned. Her husband
and the rest of her family were killed. Only she and her son survived, but he
was badly injured. His wounds were infected and he was dying. She said an
American doctor came and treated her son and he lived. In spite of her deep
sorrow and loss, she smiled, not just her face, but with her eyes, and said, “I
want to thank you for coming.”
This Christmas season we are all like that Indonesian woman. Christmas is our
way of smiling as we look into the face of God and say, “Thank you for coming.”