People or God: who is responsible for natural disasters?

Professor Robert White examines natural disasters from an historical and biblical point of view

Natural disasters are processes which make this a fruitful world,” says Professor Robert White of Cambridge University and the Faraday Institute. “Things go wrong when human actions turn a natural process into a disaster.”

Neither earthquakes nor volcanoes are negative occurrences, Professor White says. Though they have been happening for centuries, some countries have the technology to minimize damage while others do not. “Poor people are disproportionally killed by disasters,” he says. The effects are often made worse by the action or inaction of people.

Professor White cites various examples of natural disasters that have been aggravated by humans to illustrate his point.


In 1793, a nine-month volcanic eruption covered Iceland in ash but killed no one. The following winter was harsh, killing most of the cattle and crops, causing a famine. Neighboring countries were aware of the conditions and did nothing to help, resulting in the death of 25 per cent of Iceland’s population.

In May 1902, Martinique‘s Mount Pele erupted, destroying the city of Saint Pierre and its inhabitants. Saint Pierre’s residents stayed because the mayor, who was running for re-election, released a statement saying the volcano was not dangerous. Only one person survived.

While nothing could have stopped these volcanoes from erupting, the actions of the mayor in Martinique and the inaction of the countries near Iceland claimed many lives.


Although it is still difficult to predict a volcanic eruption, the technology used to prevent damage from earthquakes has advanced. When earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 9.1 hit California and Tokyo, respectively, 57 people died in California and no one was lost in Tokyo.

When a 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti, 230,000 people died. Without the ability to build quake resistant structures, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, suffered massive losses and is still trying to recover.

Joseph, Job and God

Natural disasters have challenged the faith of Christians for centuries. Both believers and non-believers have asked God why he allows tragedies to happen.

Professor White used Joseph as an example of God working through people to prevent disasters. After being sold by his brothers, God placed Joseph in the perfect position to prepare for the coming famine. He stored grain and rationed it accordingly so that no one would starve. Later in Genesis, Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” This is one of the ways God works to keep a natural occurrence, like a drought, from becoming a disaster.

Job’s situation was different. As a faithful believer in God and a “blameless and upright man,” he could not understand why he was being punished and pleaded with God for answers.

Professor White quoted fellow Catalyst Live speaker, Sharon Dirckx, saying, “Things that go wrong in your life are not a punishment from God.” Instead, in response to Job’s questions, God explains his absolute power over creation, and rebukes those who have told Job he is to blame for his trials. “God is sovereign over this world, even over evil,” says Professor White. Natural occurrences happen for a reason, not necessarily because those affected have sinned.

The earth is always changing because of earthquakes, droughts, famine, volcanic eruptions and floods. God gives people the tools and warnings they need to survive these natural occurrences. When warnings are ignored or tools are not shared, that is when these events become disasters.

Professor Robert White is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth Science at Cambridge University

Words: Vickey Casey


The Deposition: exploring Christ’s burial

Rev Graham Kent explores the beauty and intricacies of Graham Sutherland’s painting, the deposition and the value of human creativity at Catalyst Live in Manchester.

The Deposition, a mid-20th century painting by Graham Sutherland, is a piece that resembles art from both the Orthodox Church and Western traditions. “It is the moment when Christ is laid in the tomb,” says Secretary of the Methodist Art Collection, Rev Graham Kent. “In this light and in certain daylighting, this picture also has the beginnings of the resurrection.” 

Graham Sutherland was deeply influenced by photographs from the Holocaust and images of survivors from the concentration camps. Painted in 1947, The Deposition shows Jesus’ lifeless and apparently emaciated form, resembling the victims in the photographs of the time, being lowered into a tomb that is set against surroundings evocative of a concentration camp.

Below the cross is what Kent describes as “the body which could be androgynous but is beginning to become abstract,” being lowered into the tomb by his followers. His figure, pale and lifeless, has developed a “spikiness” that can be found in Sutherland’s other paintings as his style developed. The sharp points of his shoulders, knees, hip and ribs emphasize the suffering that Jesus and the Holocaust survivors endured before their lives ended.

Set behind the tomb, a chalice shape fills with water, represented by the blue lines, while Jesus’ blood flows down the cross and mixes with the water. Here, Sutherland presents imagery of the blood and water mixing together as a reference to what happened when Jesus’ side was pierced by the spear.

Kent also described the signs of “diaconal ministry.” This is shown by Jesus’ followers cleansing his body with the bowl and towels as Christ is lowered “into the double sacrament of altar and font.” A devout Roman Catholic, Sutherland uses the altar and font from this tradition in the painting. The altar is covered with a simple frontal that goes all the way around the structure. It also serves as the font, the basin that is used as Jesus’ “baptismal tomb.”

Behind the tomb sit the bars for the gates of Hell, similar to a style that can be found in Renaissance paintings. “[Some] believe that Christ descended into the depths of hell,” says Kent. The figure is not just descending, but is also about to spring up in resurrection. Jesus’ form appears to be either going into the grave or slowly rising out of it, both lifeless and lifelike. “This shows a real image of descent into death and then resurrection,” he says.

Kent, in his address to the Catalyst Live audience, related the depth and power of Sutherland’s work to the importance of having creative ministry and engaging with those who paint. “We, as human beings, respond to creating things because we are created beings and have creative natures.

“Engage with all people who are creative, who agonize over the work they produce,” he encouraged the audience. “They may tell us something about the character and the nature of God. The God who loved us so much that he became one of us.”

Rev Graham Kent is the Secretary of the Methodist Art Collection

Words: Vickey Casey

Image: Graham Sutherland/The Deposition from the Methodist Modern Art Collection, © TMCP, used with permission.

A cure for paralyzing fear in Chad

The most vulnerable in Chad: women and children

Have you experienced fear so strong it rendered you mute or paralyzed? Mark Hotchkins’ patients at Guinebor II Hospital have.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can remove our ability to speak and move or even drive us to do dangerous things. This is different from the feelings that something like loud thunder might evoke. This type comes from feeling absolutely powerless, and from having no control over your circumstances.

At Guinebor II Hospital (G2) outside of N’Djamena, in Chad most of the patients BMS World Mission doctor Mark Hotchkin treats in this condition are women. However, there are a few rare exceptions.

Moussa*, a seven-year-old boy originally from Lake Chad, an area invaded by Boko Haram in February, was sent away to a religious school by his family 19 months ago. He hadn’t heard from his father, who still lives there, since the attack. After learning of the trouble there, he became silent and immobile.

Boys visiting Guinebor II Hospital
After four days without making a sound or moving on his own, Moussa’s headmaster carried him to G2 where Mark took over the little boy’s care and set about trying to discover the reason for Moussa’s silence. Despite positive results, the headmaster was sure that little Moussa was physically ill. So Mark asked for a few moments alone with his patient and helped Moussa break free of his fear-induced shell. “This time I asked him if he was worried about his parents,” says Mark. Tears filled Moussa’s eyes and rolled down his cheeks as he said, “Yes.” Mark gave him the opportunity to speak freely about his worries and Moussa was able to find his voice.

“The response of the powerless and weak around here is often silence,” says Mark. A more common sight than Moussa, he reports, is young women who are mute, laying stiffly on beds and appearing unconscious being admitted by their families. “We do see this quite often,” says Mark, “and I think it has to do with people’s positions in society and how they’re able to respond to things.”

Dr Mark Hotchkins

Years of experience working with similar situations in the UK has made it easier for Mark to tell which cases are physical illness and which are a result of mental trauma. “I think these phenomena, and especially psychological mutism, have much more to do with a sense of powerlessness and being in a low position where you aren’t usually heard, than with gender,” he says. But in a patriarchal society, like Chad, women and children are the ones who suffer. How do you help people who feel so helpless and stuck that they can no longer play an active part in their own world?

Drinking petrol was the solution for nineteen-year-old Asha*.

The young married woman had run back to her family home after suffering verbal and physical abuse from her in-laws. Her father was returning Asha to her husband when she saw the can and made a choice. Thankfully, she was taken to G2 in time and no damage was done. But her situation is an example of someone on the margins, someone who believes that their life is no longer theirs, grasping for some sense of dignity and control. Asha did not choose when or who she married and we will never know if the young couple were married before the age of eighteen. Her home, a place where she neither feels safe, loved nor valued, will remain her home until she dies.

Fear for family during conflict and fear for self at home. Fear driving a child into paralyzed silence and fear driving a young, abused woman to attempt suicide. BMS created the Dignity initiative to help people like Asha who are survivors of gender based violence in places like Mozambique, Thailand and Uganda regain control over their lives and break through the cloud of fear that keeps them silent or hopeless. “These people, especially the powerless young women,” says Mark, “the unhappy, abused and exploited in all our societies, need help the world over.”


Mark Hotchkin’s full blog post can be found on their profile.


*Names and specific details about each patient have been changed to preserve their privacy.

Turning a frown upside down in PEPE Mozambique

A glimpse into the world of PEPE Mozambique – the challenges and triumphs.

Curious little faces turned to stare at the strangers standing in the doorway. “Bon dia,” was followed by a kiss on each cheek from the teachers as the team of two from BMS World Mission entered the Mozambique preschool education program (PEPE) classroom.
BMS mission worker Liz Vilela kindly translated the Portuguese into English for us as we were introduced to the class. More children entered after us, but one was unwilling to leave the familiarity of her father’s arms. Liz soothed the crying girl while the teacher settled the other children. The sniffling child was seated between two girls on a bench, one of whom placed a comforting arm around her distraught classmate.

So, the session began.

BMS Action Teamer teaching her students their vowels.

PEPE Mozambique’s aim is to provide a safe and healthy environment where the children can learn and grow mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Liz’s role is to support PEPE’s national co-ordinator by delivering training on nutrition, hygiene and discipline, and then evaluating progress. She also supervises the BMS Mozambique Action Team as they teach short lessons to the children.


The Vilela family

Liz recently completed a round of training and evaluation on nutrition where she taught the value of giving children healthier snacks with slower burning carbs. “Very often you’ll see the kids come in with an entire packet of biscuits and a fizzy drink,” she says. Neither of these are filling and students are often hungry and tired shortly after eating. While these two are inexpensive in the short term, parents end up spending more. Liz explained that giving a child something healthier and more substantial (like a bread roll and one biscuit instead of the whole pack) not only saves money but helps the students to focus better. “After one training session, a parent came to tell me how surprised she was,” says Liz, “she saw a great difference in her child.”

Sparing the rod

Discipline is another area where Liz is evaluating and training the PEPE teachers. Together, they discuss different and more effective ways of keeping order. “Corporal punishment is still a part of schools here,” says Liz. “We’re hoping that teachers will adapt their methods to, for example, understanding why a student is disruptive instead of striking them when they don’t stop.”

Moving stories

Liz also emphazises the value of movement. “No three-year-old wants to sit for three hours,” she says. So teachers are encouraged to do more active lessons – standing to sing or adding a dance activity – to engage their students and keep learning fun. The BMS Mozambique Action Team has employed this method by teaching the children songs like Head, shoulders, knees and toes. A little way into the lesson, the scared girl who had cried when her father left was happily singing alongside her classmates.

The sad girl (left) chatting with an Action Teamer and her classmate
PEPE has been running for a long time, celebrating 23 years of BMS supported education and smiles from Brazil to Mozambique. Thank you for your generosity and prayers for Liz and the local teachers as they work together to maintain the standard of excellence and help more children love to learn.

This piece was written by BMS Writing Intern Vickey Casey who recently traveled to Mozambique to write about the BMS projects there.

Photo credit: Vickey Casey

Hello everyone!

I’m back in the UK for my final year of service through Time For God with BMS World Mission. I’m sorry for the lack of posts over the last few months. Life got pretty busy during the summer but I’m back and ready to blog. So much has happened since May. I went on holiday with friends, tried new food, jumped off a bridge into a river and so much more.

In the next few posts I’ll be catching you up on all that you have missed. To give you a better idea about my work, you can find all of the articles I’ve written since September 2013 until now along the left side of my blog. Including the one I wrote today that covered he ever present and difficult question of: what do you do when someone asks for money? Do you give it to them or turn them down?

Want to know what I found out? Read the story!


Still I rise

Today, the world lost an incredible voice.

Poet, author, dancer, singer, humanitarian and a source of strength and inspiration, Dr Maya Angelou, passed away.

As a child, I grew up hearing about this amazing woman with the ability to sting together words in such a way that moved a generation and set hearts and minds aflame. Then, one February, I was asked to recite Still I rise for a Black History Month assembly. I was terrified. I hated public speaking, still not a fan actually. Whenever I did it, my shyness forced my voice to be just above a whisper so the audience would always strain to hear.

But my teacher and parents decided that I was going to do this. Why me? I still don’t know, and to be honest I never bothered to ask.

My parents diligently worked with me each night, helping me memorize the lengthy poem. My teacher, a poet herself, taught me the intonation and played recording of Dr Angelou so I could understand the natural sass that seemed to ooze from her whenever she spoke.

Finally the night came. I could feel my stomach twist as my classmates gave their presentations. One by one they went, confident and sure. All too quickly, it was my turn.

I climbed the stage stairs and stood before the mic, still terrified. I started reciting from memory, sounding as scared as I looked.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

First line, done.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

My words became less about repeating what I’d memorized and more about expressing the ideas within the poem. On and on the lines flowed until the last stanza:

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

When the last ‘I rise’ left my lips, I felt powerful. Like the words alone had given me so much strength that I could say the poem all over again. Thankfully, it was time for the next person.

15 years later, that poem has stayed with me.

Thank you for your words Maya Angelou and thank you for overcoming all the odds and sharing your gifts with the world.

You are already missed.

Do you have $3, £3 or €3?

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200Dear Family, Friends and Subscribers,

This has been an exciting year of mission and learning with an adventure or two thrown in, and I couldn’t have experienced any of it without you. Through interviews and stories, I’ve met a struggling mother in Uganda who turned a hobby into a business. I watched a doctor mold the minds of her students to see their dying patients as people in need of care instead of breathing corpses. I’ve sat back in wonder at the way pigs can unite villages that, only six years ago, were scarred by massacres.

Through my time here at BMS, I have heard and told amazing stories and I need your help to continue. I know that for many, money is tight, which is why I am not asking for too much. Unfortunately, my family and I cannot cover the entire cost of me volunteering for another year, and I need some help.

You can help me continue this amazing work and telling these inspiring stories by doing two things:

Donating $3 £3 or €3 (or more if you are able)


Sharing my message with your friends

You’re probably wondering, ‘what good will $3 do?’ The answer is, ‘a lot more and $0.’ Every donation, big or small, gets me close to the $4,000 goal. Yes, it is a lot, but with your support, I know it’s possible.

Thank you for believing in me and what I’m doing and for going on this journey with me.

Yours truly,