As we enter the holiest week in the Christian year, many here in Malawi are treading their own via dolorosa. More than 600 have been killed by Cyclone Freddy and a further c500 have been reported missing. In some places landslides have become graveyards as it has not been possible to recover the bodies of those whom they killed. The Government estimates that 659,278 people are displaced, many of them now finding refuge in 576 camps. Many others have seen part or all of their crops destroyed before they could be harvested, so they face the prospect of severe food shortage in the year ahead.
When Scottish mission work started in this part of Africa in the late nineteenth century, the great evil it sought to counter was the slave trade. The pioneering Blantyre missionary David Clement Scott looked at it through the lens of Easter:
“In order to put down the slave trade you must have a proper doctrine of humanity, a true appreciation of the slave. Just as Christ took upon himself the form of a slave long ago, so he takes upon him the form of Africa today. Africa bears the sins of the world’s rulers. How long are we as a nation going to lay our selfishness, our meanness, our falsehood, our lusts, yea, and the whole burden of our sins upon this Lamb of God?”Life and Work in British Central Africa, Aug-Dec 1897
What would Scott make of the situation around Blantyre today? Devastating suffering has been inflicted on tens of thousands of vulnerable and defenceless people – are they bearing the sins of others? The ultimate causes of the climate change that led to Cyclone Freddy are found in the self-serving reluctance of the “world’s rulers” to take the decisive but costly action that is needed. They are found in the “selfishness, meanness, falsehood and lusts” of those in industrialized countries who have benefitted from the exploitation of the environment that has brought about the current crisis. The victims of Cyclone Freddy are among those who have done least to cause damaging climate change, yet they are the ones who are paying the price.
An Easter perspective on Cyclone Freddy provokes uncomfortable questions. Perhaps the repentance and new life of Easter must, for our time, have climate justice at its heart?
Lord, have mercy. I knew the cyclone was very bad, but did not realize it was THIS devastating! Lord, have mercy. Lord, bring repentance in our lives and lands.