One year ago came Karen. Karen was the typhoon that literally destroyed Guam. I cannot help recalling the event, for indeed it was the sort of experience that makes one do some deep soul-probing and re-evaluating of one’s faith, standards, and interests in life.
The name Karen in the Greek means “gift.” It was also on a Sabbath day that this “gift” was given. Although one’s human nature cannot concede that such loss and tragedy could be a gift, if we Christians really believe that every providence is of God and therefore good, we must make that confession.
I had a lovely home in one of the native villages. It was full of the lovely and irreplaceable things I had gathered on my world travels. The front of the house faced the main highway while the back was on the beach.
Although the typhoon chasers had been tracking this storm for several days it wasn’t until Sunday morning it became plain that we were in immediate danger. Security and civil defense units closed the roads to all except emergency vehicles at 3:00 p. m. My intention was to sit out the storm on my own home, but around 4:00 p. m. the officers came around telling all shore area occupants to evacuate because high water was expected. I put everything movable in drawers or closets; the rest I covered with plastic. I thought with high winds the house would probably lose its roof, but that’s as much damage as I anticipated. Friends came from another village to pick me up. Expecting to return in the morning, I left wearing an old pair of pedal pushers, blouse, rubber zoris, a sweater, and carrying my hymnbook, Bible, and an exposition of the Psalms. That’s all. Since no regular church services could be held, the Hunter family and I held our own little worship Service. We sang hymns read Scripture, Mr. Hunter read of the Psalm expositions, we had prayer. By the time we finished, the wind was kicking up quite badly, telephone connections were poor, lights were flickering. And we were all busy mopping water. More wind, more water. We couldn’t keep ahead of it anymore. The noise was terrific — the wind was whistling and howling, corrugated tin being torn off roofs screeched and shrieked like wild beasts in agony. The beam of a flashlight showed that many of the houses round about were already gone. We made the mistake of opening the front door — whoosh, the screen door, torn off its hinges, swept into the living room. The door springs caught in the crack of the door preventing our being able to close it. Then began the real battle of the night. The wind’s velocity increased tremendously. (It wasn’t until later we found what we with our puny strength were trying to resist—sustained winds 185 mph, gusts to 207 mph.) We could feel the wall bulging. We wanted just enough air inside to equalize the pressure; if we let the door go, the wind roaring in would lift the roof right off. Finally, in a short lull, Mr. Hunter opened the door, reached out and jerked those springs off. But the door latch would no longer hold. Three adults were holding the door, but we knew we couldn’t last much longer. Mrs. Hunter and her slight fifteen-year old daughter were delegated to move the 1,000-lb. upright piano in front of the door. With much panting and puffing, they finally succeeded. Mr. blunter and I let go the door. Whoosh came the wind and across the room rolled that heavy piano. Once again, panting and puffing the piano was rolled up! Mr. and Mrs. Hunter held the door, I pushed against the piano while the young girl went to get some wedges out of her young brothers’ toy box. The wedges helped. We looked about, again. Across the drive, we could see the neighbor’s house was flat. The Hunters knew they had been in the house. If so, they must be in grave danger. So those two, braving the flying debris and crackling wires, set out to the rescue. They found the family of five huddled under the kitchen table, mattresses stacked around the sides. They were brought over. The Hunters continued their search of the neighborhood until all were brought safely into their house. By this time the wind had abated somewhat, but we thought it was the eye passing and we expected the backlash to be worse than the first winds. We were sure the house could take no more strain, so we decided to crawl under. Two of the men went down, spread some boards over the damp earth and there in a corner eighteen drenched, shivering, fearful people huddled, waiting for the dawn.
About 3:00 a. m., a Navy rescue vehicle came around looking for refugees. They would have taken us to the Naval Hospital, but we decided we were as well off where we were, especially since they said the storm was past. My ears also heard words which gripped me with a cold hand. They said Piti was hardest hit, especially the shore area. I knew then my home was gone, and so I took this time to steel myself before the moment came when I would have to see. This is the time when all the training I had received from my youth up served as one great rock of strength. “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” We managed a couple hours of sleep after that.
At the first streaks of dawn, a new sound struck our ears—all over the village hammers pounding on tin roofs. With the bright light came also the view of our beautiful island — stark naked, stripped of every green blade it had, rubble all over the ground, twisted rumpled tin hanging grotesquely from wires and trees. Wires were a snarled mass, poles — row upon row — lying on the ground. Early we started on our way to Piti in the pick-up truck, turning this way and that to circumvent the blocked roads, until we reached the main highway. Already the navy bulldozers had been through the town, shoving tons of sand, boats large and small, roods, houses, furniture out of the road so traffic could get by. When we reached Piti it was as we were told — gone! We found my three pieces of Hong Kong furniture relatively unharmed. Everything was soaked with salt waiter, covered with sand and seaweed. My piano was half buried in the sand; not a key would play. Most of my belongings went to sea, Others, battered by wind and wave, were damaged beyond repair. Most of them we never found, even though we spent a week of back-breaking labor with crowbars, wrecking bars, and shovels, prying at the wreckage to get at whatever was underneath. I had no clothes, no shoes, other than what I had worn the day I left home. For three days these clothes never came off. I worked in them, ate in them, slept in them. We had no running water for ten days. We had to stand in line with buckets to draw water at the town square where a tank truck parked each day. We had no electricity for six weeks. We cooked on an open barrel fire door, rain or shine; we walked about the neighborhood collecting debris for firewood. We went to bed at dusk and arose at dawn for more toil. And so, the days passed.
The Hunter home became my home, their family my family. On Thursday, our church group met to pray and to give praise to God. Since the day the typhoon came was also my parents’ wedding anniversary, it was my opportunity to testify, of the faith which my parents’ and my church had taught me, to reflect upon the teachings of Holy Writ which speak of the powers God exercises in nature, how much greater even is the power He wields over the human soul, how true that peril or distress or anything can separate us from the love of God, how very rich I really was, even though all my earthy possessions were gone, still His love was all powerful, all-embracing, ever present. Above all that, he had left me my life and breath — I think so I might praise Him. When one feels the very presence of death — when danger is so eminent that one marvels from each moment to the next that he is still alive — this is the time one searches for the true values of life. And always it must come down to this — “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these, other things shall he added unto you.”
What are you looking for in life? How much of self is there in what you seek? It is fun, material possessions, a better car than your buddy, lovelier or more expensive clothes? achievement? getting ahead? popularity? a sense of importance? happiness? a job that pays well? The guarantee of the very best possible life is in the verse quoted above and the words of this hymn:
“Keep our eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of this world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his marvelous grace.’’
What do you have to give to your Master? Do you wait to be asked to contribute money for the Lord’s work? Do you want to be asked to participate in the Bible discussions or programs of your society and then perhaps consent reluctantly? Do you hope you won’t be asked to take the recorder around to the shut-ins or to drive old people to Church? If you look for ways to serve and help others then you are glorifying your God and indeed your reward will surely come to you, both in this life and in the life to come. What do you have to give to your Master?