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My Take: Rebuilding your life and your faith after the storm
A Breezy Point resident walks past burnt houses after the neighborhood was left devastated by Hurricane Sandy in the New York borough of Queens November 12, 2012.
November 17th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

My Take: Rebuilding your life and your faith after the storm

Editor’s Note: John and Bonnie Nystrom are the authors of “Sleeping Coconuts,” the true story of how a devastating tsunami changed the face of Bible translation in Papua New Guinea.

By John Nystrom and Bonnie Nystrom, Special to CNN

(CNN) – As images of the Superstorm Sandy's devastation have filled our TV screen and computer monitor these last three weeks, our thoughts have often been of friends in Arop, a tiny fishing village in Papua New Guinea.

When it became clear that Hurricane Sandy would hit the Northeast United States hard, our thoughts went back to our friends in Arop, a tiny coastal community that faced an unimaginable tragedy of its own.

In July 1998, earthquakes off the Pacific island's shore sent three 30-foot waves roaring toward the coast. Most of Arop's huts were built on stilts, but they never stood a chance against such a force of nature. The tsunami destroyed everything and claimed the lives of more than a third of the 2,400 people who called Arop home.

Whenever a natural disaster makes the news, we think of them.

Before the tsunami we had worked among the Arops for 10 years as linguists with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Our mission was to translate the Bible into their language, which previously had no written form.

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Because we lived and worked in a community that overcame such inconceivable tragedy, people often ask us how Christians “keep the faith” in the wake of tragedy.

Unfortunately, we usually wait until after disaster strikes to determine how we will respond.

It is very difficult to think clearly about God, or anything else, when your world has been turned upside down.

But if we understand who God is and why evil and suffering exist, we can experience God as the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,” as the apostle Paul calls him in 2 Corinthians. He says that God comforts us “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

For us the question is not, “Where is God in this tragedy?,” but “How will we respond to it, how will we experience God’s comfort in it, and how can we share that comfort with others?”

God never promises any of us a trouble-free life. The world we live in is far more troubled than many of us realize.

As difficult as it can be, we should not see tragedies as faith-shaking events, but as opportunities. When the 1998 tsunami hit our Arop friends, we weren’t wondering where God was. He was where he always is: in sovereign control and with a much bigger purpose than we could ever conceive.

We were not in Arop when the tsunami hit. But immediately after hearing about the tragedy, our question was, “Lord, how can we be part of whatever you are doing in the aftermath of this?”

As we returned to Arop immediately after the storm hit to help our organization fly in supplies and fly victims out, we also started to think differently about the monumental task of creating a written form of the Arop language and helping them translate Scriptures into it.

Papua New Guinea is home to over 800 languages. The disaster gave us much greater compassion for other language groups nearby that still had no Scripture in their language to go to for comfort. Their traditional religion lacked a category for innocent suffering so it offered no way to explain or cope with such a tragedy.

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With the Arop-speaking translators we had trained taking the lead, we formed a community of translators with church leaders from 10 neighboring language groups who also wanted to translate the Scriptures into their languages. Together we developed a team approach to translation that proved to be more efficient than our pre-tsunami single-language approach.

This method has revolutionized the way Wycliffe approaches translation in that region, but we never would have considered it if not for the tsunami.

Our faith and the faith of those around us can be strengthened in a crisis if we choose to see it as an opportunity to rethink what we’re doing with our lives and how we can be more effective in serving others.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Nystrom and Bonnie Nystrom.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • My Take

soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. The Courts

    Aug. 30, 2012: The genome of a recently discovered branch of extinct humans known as the Denisovans that once interbred with us has been sequenced
    Anyone find fossils of Adam and Eve yet ?

    December 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  2. Adam

    Probably the gais right? Better go all Word of God on them.

    November 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  3. ZeusDeusMaximus

    Here's another point about "Digusted" 's god that I, using my god-given brain, have been trying to reason out- if god is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, how come the jews needed to splash lamb's blood on their doors on passover, how come this god-thing didn't know his own people? And what was he doing being out on a mass-murder spree anyway? Kinda ticky tacky and immoral for a universal-being I think, as well as not someone I'd worship. Sounds like another sociopath to me. Anyway, explain that one puny humans....ha ha ha PULL..............ka POW..............ha ha ha ........puny humans....

    November 20, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  4. ZeusDeusMaximus

    Disgusting people. Just like Tebow threatening the children in his orphanages with hellfire and damnation if they don't believe in "the one true savior". Pedaling myth as fact is just plain wrong and doing it to people while you hold food-aid or some other close item they may need in-hand is the worst, classically evangelical thing to do. Disgusting. You want to do some good? Screw the bible translation and help them keep up their infrastructure, pick up a shovel and dig fields and plant food ya danged freaks. Storms are caused by nature, nothing else, and teaching them the facts instead of fictions is REAL help. Evangelicals are disgusting.

    PULL..............ka POW............ha ha ha puny humans..... I am the only REAL god...

    November 20, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  5. End Religion

    Fundies, helping us create atheists since 1 A.D.
    Hint: this is bad thread to be rubbing "prayer works" into the faces of people who just lost everything and likely prayed the opposite.

    November 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  6. Reality

    "Before the tsunami we had worked among the Arops for 10 years as linguists with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Our mission was to translate the Bible into their language, which previously had no written form."

    Instead of giving/teaching them something useful like not living in tsunami- prone areas !!!

    November 19, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    November 19, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "John 3:16" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian.'.

      November 19, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      November 19, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      November 19, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven

    November 19, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      November 19, 2012 at 9:03 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.