SICHUAN, China – When tragedy strikes, it is only human to ask, “Why did it happen? Why us, Lord?” These were the questions Father Jiang grappled with when a massive earthquake hit Sichuan Province in 2008, claiming more than 87,000 lives and leaving 4.8 million people homeless.
The Loss and Pain
“Our church lost 17 of our parish members and many of our members in turn lost numerous of their loved ones,” shared Fr Jiang, 52, who serves the Beichuan diocese. He was at that time in Beijing for a conference and could only catch the earliest flight back three days later.
Upon coming back, Fr Jiang spent the next two weeks walking the ruin grounds, counselling and praying for his parish members who lost their loved ones. One of his parish members is a crippled woman who survived the earthquake but lost her son and daughter-in-law.
“She couldn’t talk the first three times I visited her. On the fourth visit, she finally spoke and said she wanted to die. But she couldn’t jump since she’s crippled and didn’t have the means to buy pesticide. No words were adequate to describe her loss. It was heart breaking and we felt so helpless.”
Submission amid the Struggle
“It is especially hard when we look at the thousands of children who died in the earthquake. What wrong have they done? Isn’t it unfair? We felt helpless and were bewildered by what God had allowed to happen. I’ve no answers and I need to live with not having answers. I know I can’t overrule God’s will, so I submit to His sovereign will even though I do not understand. Going back to God in submission is the only way,” he shares candidly.
Learning to rejoice and give thanks as what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” is what comes to Fr Jiang’s mind as he faces these questions. “Given what has happened, this verse helps me to move forward,” said Fr Jiang who also organises the annual memorial service for the victims of the earthquake every 8th May.
Continuing the Work
The tragedy has not stopped Fr Jiang in his service. In fact, this is his 25th year of ministry in Beichuan. Having left his hometown in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, when he was 18 years old (to do his theological studies), he has been faithfully serving and overseeing the diocese in Beichuan where there are more than 8000 Catholics. He has even seen some of his parish members growing up and getting married, having known them since they were young children.
Today, Fr Jiang continues to serve the diocese and oversees the repair works of a Catholic church in Xiushui that was affected by the earthquake. “We reopened the church for Mass two years after the earthquake but parts of the church are still in ruins,” he says.
He has also organised a fellowship session for his parish members to create a greater sense of belonging and community. “Coming just for Sunday services can be rather ritualistic and dry. We need to inject more life and energy by informal sessions of singing, dancing and sharing of God’s Word.”
Besides adult parishioners, Fr Jiang’s heart also goes out to the left-behind elderlies who live in the mountains. After the earthquake, most of the residents were evacuated to the outskirts and resettled in new houses except for some older folks who prefer to remain in the mountains. According to Fr Jiang, they lead a lonely existence because they usually live far apart from each other and their children have largely moved to the cities. “I’ll visit them and also organise groups of volunteers to bring them food and daily necessities as well as to sit and talk with them; to surround them with Christian love so that they won’t be so lonely.”
Eight years on, what are some thoughts Fr Jiang has about the tragedy? “Man’s life is vulnerable and transient. This world is not our destination; we are sojourners. So rejoice always and give thanks,” he says.
In 2008, 30,000 copies of Bibles were distributed to Catholics in the affected areas of the Sichuan earthquake. Today, UBS continues to help the Catholic Church in China by supporting 50,000-100,000 Bibles and New Testaments annually. Let’s pray for Fr Jiang as he labours in the mountains of Beichuan, ministering to the believers and bringing the Word of God to them.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edited: Angela Teo
Photo: Cynthia Oh/ UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership