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Forgotten Disasters



Just twelve days ago our planet was rocked by a duo of disasters. A 7.6-magnitude quake struck the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, followed by shocks of similar magnitude hours later. Within moments, these geologic convulsions reduced buildings to rubble in the city of Padang, where U.N. officials estimate as many as 4,000 people could be buried. For days local citizens used hammers, chisels, and bare hands to dig through debris for survivors, hampered by heavy rain and power outages, while the hope of success was strangled with each passing hour.


Almost simultaneously, two thousand miles to the east, a deadly tsunami slammed into the Samoan Islands, burying communities under an avalanche of mud. Witnessing waves as high as thirty feet, rushing as far inland as twenty miles, inhabitants exclaimed, “We could hear the wave coming and the noise was deafening. And we could hear buildings crashing.”


These calamities occupied a small segment in the North American national news, somewhere between the release of this fall’s influenza vaccine and GM’s failed bid to sell off Saturn. Most of us thought to ourselves, What a tragedy! And then we turned our attention to the messages in our inbox. Very quickly, these became forgotten disasters. Twelve days ago easily seems like twelve weeks ago. How quickly our attention is diverted!


I should be different at heart. My own experience of living in pre-prosperity Shanghai and war-consumed Angola should have galvanized my character into one that is more sensitive and aware of catastrophes like those that just erupted. The truth is, however, that I am just as vulnerable as anyone else to neglect the distress of humans in crisis.


But it’s not only disasters that you and I tend to easily forget. Our world continues to be plagued by forgotten diseases – ones like Chagas disease and dengue fever that plague millions of persons but don’t have the media draw of HIV nor the funding streams of malaria intervention.


Ultimately, however, it is not only disasters and diseases that are forgotten. It is people who are forgotten. Who are these forgotten ones? Often they are those on the margins of our societies; the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the lame, the brokenhearted; the very ones of whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 25:34-40.


This year, our theme at INMED is Serving The Forgotten. I would like to appeal to you to intentionally look beyond yourself and join with us to engage our time, our talents, and our treasures together on behalf of those who are most neglected – like those today searching for shelter in the South Pacific. With all our potential to meaningfully intervene, the greatest disaster of all would be to simply forget!

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