One Saturday morning I woke up to humid Asian heat rising over my bed and the sound of cranky motorbikes on the way to the market. Oblivious that a tragedy had happened while I slept, I got up and went about my morning routine. When I finally logged onto my facebook, I became numb at status after status. Then I closed the computer.
And I went about my day as if nothing happened.
On December 14, 2012, on the other side of the world, tragedy struck an elementary school in my home country, leaving 20 children and 6 adults dead. Like many missionaries, I processed this tragedy far away from any English news channels.
In preparation to move overseas I learned about culture shock. I anticipated language and culture barriers and times of intense loneliness. I did not expect anger and confusion.
I did not expect to feel anger over injustice and violence. I did not expect to be confused about evil.
I had lived in Asia two years before I first identified the inward pain I was feeling. A friend and I were driving around a temple in Cambodia. My friend says, “A little boy asked if I wanted sex.” An exploited child had approached a white man.
Anger swelled when I visited the genocide museum in Cambodia where 17,000 people were tortured during the Khmer Rouge. I ran out of the museum, about to vomit. I stood under the tree where heads were slammed against, and I hovered over the pit where their remains were dumped.
In the last three years I have felt confused so many times.
- I visit my friends in the dump and carry them a water filter. I want to do so much more.
- I see the blond streaks of malnutrition in the dark hair of Asian children.
- An 18-year-old man says to me in a tongue had worked so hard to learn, “Please, Lana, pray for me. My mother is dead from AIDS. I never met my father. I wake up at 5 a.m. to clean the orphanage, then take my bicycle to work 12 hours a day to support the orphanage that raised me, and we still barely have enough to eat. I want to get my education and attend Bible college, but I can’t get out.”
I did my best I could to stuff the pain, to be tough for the orphans, and be grateful for what I have.
The children who died in Sandy Hook gave me permission to acknowledge the pain and confusion.
After the tragedy, my friends posted on their facebook. “I hugged my kids a little tighter before school this morning.” One of my friends shut down her facebook for a week because she could not handle the negative updates. Another friend cussed at the killer on her page. Every parent said they were confused, “Why, why, why?”
It hit me. The kind of news my Americans friends had received is regular dinner table news where I live in Asia. “The army burned down a village today. Mrs. Jones just sent pictures of a boy they rescued who has burns from head to toe,” someone will say over a typical meal.
I remember thinking, “If my friends are angry that 20 kids died, no wonder I’m such a wreck after three years of this kind of evil.”
So, I googled the news. I read the articles on Sandy Hook. I pulled up pictures of the innocent children who died. I cried over them, one by one.
Then I wept for the evil I see in Asia and remembered:
Evil happens overseas. It happens alongside so much joy and love. The collision creates anger and confusion. How do you deal with the painful mix of emotions on the mission field?
Lana Hope lived in a sticky-humid Asian world where she spent two years caring for teens and meeting Jesus in unexpected places.