In what feels like a lifetime ago, a young freshly minted University graduate, ‘yours truly’, got an opportunity to work in Kabale, South Western Uganda. A more beautiful spot in God’s earth you will be hard-pressed to find. Lying shoulder to shoulder with Rwanda, the famed land of a thousand hills, Kabale shares Rwanda’s distinctive and striking features of numerous green lush terraced hills. Being young and energetic, I spent a lot of time hiking the hills. Lake Bunyonyi with beautiful Bushara Island right in the middle was an added benefit.
To get to the island we would hop onto the local dugout canoes rowed by the local fishermen. There were also a few engine-powered boats plying the lake. Many a happy weekend was spent there camping, hiking around the island, and swimming in this lake that is said to be the second deepest in Africa.
At some point during my stay there, my family paid me a visit. It was only natural that I would take them to my favourite haunts. A trip to the island was top on the list. Our party made up of my parents, two siblings, an auntie and my grandma piled into the car and we made our way to the Lake.
On arrival at the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, my grandma gave one incredulous look at the water and the boats and decided this was absolutely not what she had signed up for. You see she had lived most of her life in central Kenya where lakes and boat rides were not what we do for recreation.
Although her farm fronted the big enough river Sagana, she expressed the healthy respect the villagers have for water bodies as she intoned the Kikuyu saying ‘maī mega maingī no ma kīraī’. Meaning that the only time a large quantity of water would be considered good or safe is when it is in a washbasin. Anything more than that was simply is too risky.
My beloved grandma dug in her heels and refused to join our boat ride. Not even our spirited explanations of how the orange life jackets we donned, would keep her afloat in the unlikely event of the boat capsizing could budge her resolve not to join our water adventure.
While our boat ride went smoothly, the same cannot be said of Jesus and his disciples in one of their recorded boat rides. It was an evening after a busy day and they ‘deserved’ an uneventful ride to their destination (Mark 4:35-41). But this was not to be as they got caught up in a furious storm. While I would be sympathetic to my late grandma’s trepidation towards large bodies of water, the same could not be said of Peter and his fellow crewmembers. These were experienced sailors, people who knew the water and had made their living from it.
This time, however, turned out not to be business as usual. The water’s behaviour refused to toe the line to expectations. It became wild and uncontrollable. Would it ever be still, they must have wondered? It was hard to imagine the calm manageable waters they had sailed dozens of times before. Would they ever set foot on land again? Could they ever return to their normal lives?
In the midst of all that terror, they discovered one of them was blissfully asleep. Oblivious that their lives were about to come to one wet end. Careless? Irresponsible? Head-buried-in-the-sand behaviour? He was snoring away! Jesus apparently was doing nothing in this squall. They took exception to that behaviour which they interpreted to mean that he did not care if they perished. They asked him reproachfully, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Unlike my grandma who chose not to venture into the deep but calm waters of Lake Bunyonyi, we have all in the last few months found ourselves in the very stormy waters of COVID19. Without so much as by your leave. No one remembers accepting the invitation to be here, not that it matters any now.
Whatever your vessel, whether a raft, canoe, luxury yacht, cruise liner, we are all in the same choppy water. We find that our lives have been upended. We find that the things we did dozens of times before with nary a second thought have to be well thought out now. Before heading to the supermarket you have to convince yourself it’s necessary, that your sanitizer and facemask are in place. That is if you are fortunate enough to have the money to spend! As we navigate the awkwardness of not hugging and shaking hands with our friends, the shore and the safety it represents seem very far away. We wonder whether or when life shall be normal again.
Such difficult times bring to the surface the question, “Where is God?” A common argument to bolster the claim that God does not exist is, “why would a good God allow suffering?” Disappointed in a God who seems to stand far off when we need him most, it’s easier to write him off as non-existent.
The question of suffering and especially the suffering of good and innocent people is not one that can be easily or quickly answered in a few paragraphs. It has engaged theologians and philosophers across the ages. As with Jesus’ friends when he slept through a storm, we feel like we are in the same boat in these difficult times. Our Saviour seems to have fallen asleep in the boat and more so during a storm! We witness hunger, uncertainty, broken dreams, and wiped out fortunes. We find ourselves in stormy uncharted waters and we demand to know whether he cares!
The end of this particular encounter is that when the disciples of Jesus woke him up, his words expressed his dismay at their little faith and fear. Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Beyond any explanations of the whys and the wherefores of why we find ourselves in this place, may this story remind us to trust Him in this squall. He might seem asleep and unconcerned, but even the winds and waves obey him. Let us put our faith in Him! He has the power to still the storms in our hearts, our lives, and our world. May we receive the peace he offers. The peace He promised which is not as the world gives (John 14:27) but the peace that is beyond human understanding (Philippians 4:7).
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