Chinese Church Voices

Reflections on the Tianjin Explosion

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

On August 12, 2015, a series of massive explosions ripped through a container storage station in the Binhai New Area district of the port city of Tianjin. The station is known to have been a storage site for hazardous materials. The two largest blasts were the equivalent of three tons and 21 tons of TNT respectively, with the second being picked up by weather satellites orbiting earth. Over 150 people were killed and over 700 were injured. The cause of the explosions is still unknown.

Eyewitness videos of the blast quickly spread online, followed by earnest questions regarding safety and responsibility. The Christian publication Territory joined in the discussion by asking readers to share how they were affected by the blasts. The request prompted a range of responses from deep personal reflection on the meaning of life and the frailty of life, to family reconciliation over petty disputes, to accusations of government culpability in the disaster.

We have translated five of the responses from the original twelve and provide them to you below so that you may join in on the response to the explosions with these Chinese Christians.

The Tianjin Explosion; a Turning Point in My Heart

‪On the evening of August 12, a dangerous explosion occurred in the Tianjin Binhai New Area district that shocked the whole nation. With countless photos and video clips of the incident circulating on social media, individual hearts were also shocked. Within a day, Territory, by crowdsourcing writings, had collected extracts from the inner thoughts and feelings of 12 writers who recorded how the Tianjin explosion stirred large or subtle waves in their hearts. Who under the sun knows about tomorrow? More everlasting than misery is love.

‪My Aunt's Family Fled from Tianjin

‪Shanghai, born in the 70s, female

‪My aunt and my mother have very similar faces. Their voices, appearance, and character are also very alike. Yes, they are twins. They love arguing, comparing, and talking on the phone together even though they are only thirty minutes apart by car. There is only one difference between them. One believes in the Lord and one does not believe.

‪Yesterday my mother suddenly said with a new sense of clarity, "I think everything should be given to your father to do. Even though his sense of aesthetics is not very good and he never fixes any problems at home, this life is only a short moment. Everything on this earth will pass away, only God's truth will endure." Why should I bicker with him?

‪When I probed further, I learned that, just the day before, my aunt's family had visited her sister-in-law's summer home in the Binhai New District in Tianjin. When my aunt heard a sudden clap of thunder, she mistakenly thought a storm was approaching. She got up to close the window, and the second explosion hit. The earth shook and everyone was terrified. The two families heedlessly ran for the door.

The main entrance gate to their apartment had already been blown open. The area not far outside their door was filled with flames and thick clouds of smoke covered the sky. Their car outside was damaged from the explosion. They left, not caring that the door to the house was wide open. They searched out a car and fled Tianjin in a panic. My mother had a lot of difficulty getting information on the situation and feared she'd lost her twin sister.

‪Except for the disasters that relentlessly chase our supposedly full lives like a specter, in the midst of our merry eating and drinking we forget God. In all likelihood my aunt's family drove that day looking forward to the happiness that they expected the city would give them.

‪In my Christian circle of friends, aside from prayers for Tianjin, they also started to reflect on this question: "If there is no God, to whom are we praying? If there is no soul, why say do you say 'comfort the soul' [告慰亡灵]? If there is no heaven, why pray for the dead to 'rest in peace?' Where is peace? How in the world can the dead breathe? Tell me why, smarty-pants, when things are so safe and sound you can so firmly believe that death is like snuffing out a lamp? But, why when disaster strikes you suddenly expect to go to heaven? Why is it that during the good times you can be so firm in believing that human wisdom can conquer nature? But, during times of loneliness and despair you expect heaven to save you? Praying one, to whom do you pray? Survivor, to whom are you grateful?"

‪But do these people actually know to whom we are praying? Do they really understand our longing for that kingdom which will never be shaken? In his book God is the Gospel, John Piper raises this question: "The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauty you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?" Then, are you content with this heaven?

Frankly, when I share the gospel with people, this is the type of heaven I am imagining and the type that I have been longing for. It is a heaven without Christ; a heaven where Christ seems dispensable. But, in fact, a heaven without Christ is not heaven!

‪While we are on earth, we pray to God. We try to make sure that the arrows of our souls do not hit the wrong mark. In heaven, we will ensure that our hearts love Christ alone instead of being whitewashed by earthly peace.

‪No Law Can Guard People's Hearts

‪California, born in the 40s, male

‪When I saw the devastation of Tianjin online, the first thought that came to mind was that it really was not worth it to sacrifice the lives of those firefighters. A young, energetic life was snuffed out with a loud bang and with no time to say goodbye to his family. Perhaps he has a wife and child at home waiting for him to come home? Life can completely change like that.

‪Such a sudden disaster not only shows the frailty of life but also that human error is inevitable. To those business people or government officials who cut corners and circumvent the law, I ask: if you had known that this tragedy would occur would you still allow yourselves to be so ruthless? Many tragedies in the world are caused because of people who look after their own particular interests and benefits. No law can properly guard against this type of mentality. In other words, the security of the social body requires every person to regard the safety of others as their own responsibility.

‪He Never Gave Up on His Rebellious Children

‪Shanghai, born in the 80s, male

‪When I got up this morning I did not take a look at my friends' social media feeds, so I did not know what was going on in the outside world. I saw that a brother had left me a message asking me to share the gospel in my feed. After I looked into it, I learned about the disaster suffered in Tianjin. Finally, I had some free time and read on a sister’s feed that some of the actual facts were being covered up. All of a sudden I felt very sad and very hurt. My thought was that all those people who yearn to seek a way out of this world have no hope because the whole world lies under the hand of the evil one.

‪The world has already witnessed the aftermath. There is no need to waste time explaining it when everyday one can just learn about the terrible events that occurred. Yet, because our loving God has never given up on his rebellious children, our world is still full of life-giving opportunities. I do not want to let my friends feel that they are being coerced or forced to follow a doctrine or a belief. I tell people I love that I believe in a living Lord who truly exits. The treasures of Jesus Christ do not lie in moments in which you are isolated from danger. Rather, the message that "we are right with God" is rooted in us so that we can, from the bottom of our hearts, solidly and steadily, believe in the resurrection in him and life in him.

‪Those who believe in him, though they were dead, yet shall they live.

‪There Are Many Orphans, Both Genuine and Nominal

‪Kyrgyzstan, born in the 80s, female

‪ I came to Kyrgyzstan, a country that I had only previously read about in geography textbooks, two months ago. Here, the rate of single parents is 85%. There are many orphans, both genuine and nominal. Here, the children wear faces of gloom that do not match their ages; it sends chills to people when they look them. The children quietly observe you to gain the goodwill that emanates from you. If you show just a little bit of concern, they quickly absorb it like a sponge soaking up water. When I first came I cried all the time and felt sorry for them. Sometimes there would be a whiff of hate in my heart; hate for this life and for this place that has zero pity for weakness. I also hated my own limits and my powerlessness to be able to change anything.

‪On the evening of August 12, an explosion shattered the lives of countless people. Smoke, fire, and a shockwave mocked people's frailty. This distant disaster for the first time made me profoundly understand how frail are the children around me. Today we are together. They were entrusted to me. This entrusting makes my heart tender and strong. Suddenly, I really want to pull them close to my chest and tell them, "It's ok, no matter what happens here I will love you and protect you. We are together."

‪Separated Spouses

‪Louisiana, born in the 80s, female

‪In the face of disaster and death, everyone looks so innocent, but they also seem so full of sin. I know that on the day of the explosion someone who was separated from her husband called him in Tianjin. The Tianjin disaster reminded me of those people in our lives whom we are unable to forgive, those with whom we lack the strength to make amends. People are too stubborn, too proud, and too weak. Only in the face of disaster do we have the courage to open our eyes, to glance over the arguments and scars of who wronged whom, to face up to more eternal questions: How should I make things right with you before regret sets in? God allows for suffering to occur because he wants to wake up our hardened, dormant souls.

‪Original article: 天津爆炸这一瞬,我内心的转折点(Territory)

Image credit: Voice of America/美国之音 (photo gallery) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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