A shelter in the storm

Hagibis is a word in the Philippine language Tagalog. It means “speed.” It turns out to be a good name for a typhoon packing winds of over 110 mph that is being called the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 60 years. The last storm of this size was the Kanogawa Typhoon in 1958, which left more than 1,200 people dead or missing. Already, before the center of the storm reaches landfall, tornado-like winds are causing destruction and the rain has been falling in the mountains. Rivers are running at or above flood stage and more rain and high winds are yet to come.

Distances in Japan are short. The islands are mostly mountains and coastlines. Rain in the mountains causes landslides and quickly flows down to the sea, swelling the rivers. When those swollen rivers reach the coast you’d think the worst was over, but in the event of the typhoon, the swollen rivers will be meeting huge storm surges. In the area around Tokyo, the surge is expected to be 50 feet high. That forces the water back up the rivers and causes even more extensive flooding. Evacuations have been ordered for people living in coastal areas.

It was only a month ago that Typhoon Faxai damaged over 30,000 homes in Japan.

All of those people seeking shelter are having trouble getting around with so many trains and flights being cancelled. Japan is a country that uses trains for most of its travel. The high speed bullet trains can move a lot of people around the country very quickly and efficiently, but they depend on precision scheduling and nearly perfect track systems. Any disruption can cause the entire system to have to slow or even shut down.

Grocery stores are reporting shortages of stock because people have been purchasing food in preparation for storm disruptions. Tens of thousands of homes are already without power.

The people of Japan have always lived at nature’s mercy. The islands are often the beneficiaries of beautiful weather with abundant rainfall to grow lush forests and bountiful crops. But they are also a part of the world that experiences frequent earthquakes and the islands are exposed to massive Pacific storms.

It is a week to hunker down in Japan.

Our Japanese family and friends don’t live on the coast, in the areas most vulnerable to the impacts of the storm. However, their lives will be affected even if they aren’t in immediate danger. And, as is often the case, there is not much that we can do but watch and worry from the other side of the world.

We’re not fans of rugby, so we don’t focus on the matches that have been cancelled due to the storm. We don’t follow formula one racing, so haven’t paid attention to the race cancellations. What we do know is that Japan is home to some wonderful people and we pray for their safety in the midst of the storm.

Even when there is no physical storm, the phrase “weathering the storm” has become a way of speaking about the resilience of people. We speak of other life events as storms. I’ve heard the phrase applied to illnesses, to divorces, to job losses and to a host of other events that can disrupt the lives of people. Human beings are remarkably resilient in the face of all kinds of threats and disasters. Often storm disasters, while wreaking havoc and resulting in death and loss and grief, can bring communities together. In the aftermath of a storm, people help one another in ways that are not demonstrated in daily living. While we wouldn’t wish a devastating storm on anyone, sometimes the storms of life bring out our better qualities.

Human life is fragile. There are all kinds of threats to our existence. Yet we figure out how to live and even thrive in the face of any number of potential dangers.

As I think of friends in Japan and the storm that is bearing down on the Islands, I have been going over the lyrics to an anthem that our choir is preparing to sing in worship in the next few weeks, “There’s a shelter in the storm.” There are literally shelters established in Japan. They are safe places in sturdy buildings where people can go to get out of the rain and to be safe when their homes are not considered to be safe. The son, however, speaks of emotional and spiritual shelter in the midst of storms of life that are often as difficult as the weather.

Each of us seeks safe places in our lives where we can escape the dangers and fears that surround us. For all of my life, one of those shelters has been the community of the church. I know that churches are imperfect communities. I know that harsh words can be said, that politics can infuse and that people’s feelings can be hurt. But I also have witnessed some of the best in human behavior within the church. People reach out in genuine care and concern. People serve selflessly. They are genuinely generous. They really care about others. The community of the church has come through in so many ways for so many people who are going through the storms of life. When we are at our best, we can be wonderfully strong shelters for those who have needs.

In the midst of the shelter of the community of the church I have found shelter in the circles of prayer. Sometimes our prayers are just collections of words that we say out loud at the beginning of a meeting or in the midst of worship. But more often they are the expressions of our genuine concerns and wants and needs, expressed in quiet moments with no other witnesses than God. When we pour out our hearts to God we can experience another shelter that is powerful and real. And there have been many times when I have experienced the prayers of others. Knowing that they care and that they are investing time to focus on the crises in my life has made all the difference in the world.

Life throws us all kinds of storms. It makes sense to seek out shelter in advance of the next storm.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!