What do you say when the world slips away? When all of a sudden things that were solid and dependable turn to slush?
Last month three days of solid rain over a large part of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand saturated the mountains with water. This lead to landslide, flash floods and unprecidented damage. As the news started trickling out to a stunned nation, the word "Himalayan Tsunami" was coined to describe the utter devastation that took place.
Flash floods in the Himalaya are nothing new. They happen. Not often, but often enough.
Over a hundred years ago, a famous swash-buckler called 'Pahari Wilson' was out fishing with his entourage. To their horror, a wall of water swept down the valley and took Wilson away with it. The survivors went back to Mussoorie to tell of the death of their 'sahib' and a funeral service was held. His second son took over the family fortune, but was none to pleased a few weeks later - when his supposedly deceased father showed up again - very much alive! The flash flood had swept him many miles down stream, and he had managed to live off the woods and then make his way back to civilisation.
So what is different today?
Well for one, the hills are criss-crossed with roads. Deep long gashes which you see every way you look. And next to each road are clusters of houses. Some big enough to be called towns. And with the Himalaya being very vertical - most of these buildings are perched precariously. So when the land starts to slip - it takes the buildings with it. And finally, there is a huge business in religious tourism. The hills are called the abode of the gods - and something like 60,000 tourists were in Uttarakhand - the majority of them of pilgrimage / holidays - when the rains fell.
The rains did fall. Mum and Dad were in Mussoorie at the time. They said it was like someone pouring water out of a bucket. For 3 solid days. They had never seen anything like it. There were a few landslides in Mussoorie, but no real damage. The real damage took place further in. Hundreds of roads washed out. Thousands of houses collapsed, crushed under landslides, washed away by floodwaters. And in all of this, there were millions of people.
So many died. The numbers will never be known. There are figures of as many as 13,000 missing and presumed dead.
Mum and Dad were actually just about to host a group of families who are associated with their church. Immediately These men and women were coming to Mussoorie for a time of rest and restoration - and a number of them were to stay with Mum and Dad. Immediately after this retreat they were going on a 2 week holiday.
Then the water came - and soon the landslides prevented any travel. They called and told that it was impossible to come to Mussoorie.
Mum and Dad heard the news with horror and prayer. After a few days they had to decide about what to do about their vacation. After praying, they decided that they needed to spend time away, and so they did.
Going to a secret place, they spent 2 weeks at a hotel. They read, prayed, listened to music, went on local hikes, prayed some more.
After some time, Dad felt that he had to make some kind of a gesture to express the deep sorrow he had about all the loss people were going through.
Then the idea came to him. Why not get shaved - as men do when they lose their parent.
And so he did.
The result was heart-warming. Dad has had so many conversations where he shared his love and concern for people - and why he shaved his head - and how much Jesus also mourns the deaths and destruction that took place. People have been really touched by his gesture. Knowing my father, this is no gimmick. It's a genuine sharing of grief with others. And a genuine sharing of the joy that Dad has in Jesus.
We understand that they are planning to go deep into the hills now that the roads are being repaired. The church is planning relief work, and Mum and Dad want to be part of it.
Their heart of compassion continues to beat. Their attitude of love continues to bear fruit in actions that care.
Mum and Dad and the folks they are with will not erase the pain of the survivors with some kind of flash-in-the-pan conjuring trick. They are around for the long haul. Working with local people who themselves are living out lives as Christ-bhakts in the very places where the rains swept life-as-they-knew-it away.
Oh that we would see a Himalayan blessing, where the scars of this terrible episode will be healed - and many of God's simple people equipped to touch the lives of others.