Story by Stephanie Ernandes, Photo by Leah Veil
“’Was God trying to kill me?’ the pastor asked a roomful of his fellow earthquake survivors. The man’s eyes were full of tears, his face haunted by abandonment and betrayal. ‘What did I do wrong?’ he asked in a voice barely audible before sitting back down on the grass-padded dirt floor of the church building.”
These were some of the questions asked of Leah Veil and her teammates. They had flown to Walagu, Papua New Guinea, to minister to a group of over 40 pastors and their wives (87 people total), all earthquake victims from the surrounding villages, now seeking refuge in Walagu.
Gathered in a small bamboo church, months after the terrors of the earthquakes – yet still quite shaken, many people stood up and shared similar stories and concerns. The majority of them were desperately trying to figure out answers to questions like: Is God angry? Am I being punished? Does God really answer prayers? Was God not able to help us?
These people had been taken care of physically by the generosity of so many across the world and in PNG. But Leah and her group came to minister to a different need. They’d come to walk through their trauma with them by taking them through a trauma healing/disaster response workshop. They asked them to share their stories, their concerns, and their beliefs about God as a result of the tragedy they were all facing. After much listening and many tears shed, they gently took them to the Word of God.
“For the next several days of the workshop, we talked about God being love. About how, when we turn to Him, our sins are completely forgiven, never to be remembered again. About how He is a loving father to His children. Then we talked about the process of grieving and how to listen well to others who are in pain,” Leah remembered. They finished up with an object lesson about how to take their own pain to Christ.
Leah was happy about how God worked in people’s hearts. She recalled, “Afterwards, one man testified that immediately following the earthquake, he’d known that there was no refuge to be found; Not in Walagu, not anywhere. He said he’d lost his faith. Yet, through the working of God’s Spirit during the workshop, he now knew that God loved him. He said, ‘God is our ples hait (refuge). When we leave here to go back to our village, God will be there, too. He will be our ples hait there as well because He loves us and will always be with us.’”