Cyclone Ula and Tanna’s Spiritual Beliefs

Vanuatu, Tanna, Naka, Cyclone Pam 30At the moment winds are blowing at about 165km/h close to the centre of the category 4 cyclone, Ula, about 210km southwest of Tanna. The courses of cyclones are difficult to predict, but at present the best guess is that it will miss Tanna and continue to head in a southwest direction, however there is more to think about here than the direction of the storm.

We are in Port Vila (on another island further away) at the moment waiting to go home to Tanna tomorrow, but from our experience with Cyclone Pam last year, it is likely that many people on Tanna at the moment will be in a state of great anxiety. Most people on Tanna do not view a cyclone and an event controlled by an all-powerful God, nor as a result of explainable physical phenomena; but as a physical occurrence controlled by certain people who manipulate spirits/gods through their magical ability and mental state. That is, they believe that some people can ‘pull’ a cyclone to Tanna or send it away.

At the moment, some magical power-brokers (klevas) will be claiming to be pulling the Cyclone Ula towards Tanna while others will be working to send it away. Many people won’t want the cyclone, while others, either because they believe it will bring blessing or as an act of revenge, will actually want it. This will cause anxiety, suspicion and conflict amongst people and spiritual dilemma (perhaps rarely recognised) for Christians.

A natural disaster raises the question of who or what do people ultimately trust. Will people ultimately trust God and commit themselves into his care, or will they trust in animistic practices? Beyond that, it raises perhaps a deeper question of what we trust for.

The klevas trust their magic to avoid the destruction caused by a cyclone (or create it, as the case may be). But do Christians trust God to deliver us from the suffering caused by natural disasters? The ultimate answer is: no. We can trust that we will never be outside of the love of God and that that we will be able to endure through any situation, but that does not mean that we will survive any situation in an earthly sense, rather that God will cause our faith to endure to the end so that we will survive final judgement in the ultimate sense (I’m thinking of Romans 8:31-39). Jesus did not come to save us from a cyclone, but from the eternal judgement that we all deserve.

That’s a radical thought for all of us, but for the average animist it’s preposterous! Becoming a Christian and learning to trust God requires a massive mind-shift. I’m continually struck by 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 that the new Christians haven’t just changed their spiritual allegiance, but their life’s focus in that they are now oriented towards the last day.

Jesus taught his followers that we need to look beyond earthy disasters and towards the ultimate disaster (Luke 13:1-8). We should pray now that God might strengthen his people on Tanna and other islands to do this and that God will use this ‘shadow of Pam’ to draw people to him.

Following Cyclone Pam we were able to produce a Bible study for the people of Vanuatu to address these issues – Pam provided us with a great opportunity! Pray now that people will think back to that and even get out a copy and use it with others.

Pray also for physical safety too for the people of Tanna and the people of Futuna and Aneityum who are closer. God does love his people cares about their everyday needs.

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