Sunday late afternoon was bringing our city of tents to a close. The city government sent police to chase public park campers away. The Sichuan University campus was being vacated of everyone sleeping outdoors. Many fearful residents voluntarily moved themselves indoors.
And then. . . another strong quake hit, sending residents flying down my building’s stairwell and out into the compound.
Just a few hours ago, I returned from a long day out. I had dropped off the dog at the vet’s around 8:30 a.m. I quickly taxied over for the Chengdu Protestant Church Sunday prayer service for those in the earthquake. After that, it was a direct hike to the swimming pool complex for an hour of exercise. A few hours later, I joined NPR’s senior producer, Art Silverman, at The Bookworm coffee shop for a friendly chat. (He is currently on vacation after finishing his stint of the Chengdu Diary NPR series here in the city). We had a pleasant walk back to his hotel before parting. Then I cruised the pet and fish market where small shops along the roadside sold everything imaginable for your animal. Finally, I called it quits and taxied back to my apartment.
As I sat typing emails around 4:25 p.m., I could feel the tremor coming. It was a miniscule ripple undulating beneath me as I sat on the couch, and lasted for about 7 seconds. I was thinking, "Here it comes!" before a rumble sent the ceiling lights swaying. Although this tremor lasted for only about 5 seconds, it was enough to send those inside once again racing into the compound area.
Will the city be back on full alert? Will residents once again feel uneasy and fearful?
Television stations now have running texts below screen that report of a 6.4 quake (or 5.8 by the US Geological Service) having hit our area at 4:27 p.m. Such constant updates have not been unusual for the past 2 weeks. On the 24-hour earthquake channel, tremors have been carefully counted and then shown across the screen: “7,420 tremors, 25 tremors 4.0 – 5.0, 12 tremors 5.0 – 6.0, 4 tremors 6.0 – 7.0”
With so much worry and paranoia in Chengdu, I wonder now how many will return this evening to their outdoor habitats, or are people finally coming to accept that tremors are not necessarily a reason to panic?
Tonight will tell.
But my greatest concern at present is for our earthquake survivors to the north. Over 300 were injured by this last current tremor with one death. Unsteady buildings still standing collapsed. Debris shifted. Fear of further dam damage was reported and landslides a strong possibility with the threat of rain this evening. Then we have the survivors. After trying to put their lives back together, a 5.8 tremor is just another reminder of that day 2 weeks ago. When the ground quakes beneath their feet, I’m sure the terror returns.
Today was the Christian community’s prayer services to remember those in the earthquake. Both the Chengdu Catholic Church and the Chengdu Protestant Church chose today for their Worship of Prayer, in remembrance of those in the May 13th earthquake. This was a very fitting way for us as Christians to remember those in need and those who have died.
At the city Protestant church I attend, Saturday provided 3 prayer services for 50-minutes each, and today was increased to four. Today, 8:30, 9:30, 10:30 and 2 p.m. times were posted outside the church, with me attending the 9:30 worship.
Usually, the large church sanctuary is packed with worshipers. Those coming in a bit late are forced into the crowded balcony. But with so many prayer hours, there were still a few seats in the pews available, even for me who arrived a bit after service had started. It was a wise decision to hold so many gatherings because the balcony is now off-limits, most likely due to the tremors we’ve been having.
Our prayer worship today was just that: prayer. There was no choir. There was no piano accompaniment. There was no long-winded sermon. We read from Psalms 46 and 91. We sang only one hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." We recited the Lord’s Prayer. And we prayed silently. This was the shortest service I’ve ever attended in China, since usually 1 1/2 to 2 hours is the norm, but it was the most meaningful for me as a Christian in this country. To be surrounded by my Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ, with our prayers lifted upward as one, was a very emotional and spiritual experience.
At 10:20, we left the sanctuary to find a crowd outside the gate area of the church waiting to come in. A special offering box for earthquake relief was placed at one entrance and the usual church offering box at the other. I watched as many coming and going placed their money into the collection for earthquake aid. There were many 100 yuan bills ($14.00) being slipped into the slot, a very generous amount for those who have so little money themselves to give.
As I walked down the church sidestreet, I couldn’t help but hum our selected hymn and think how appropriate a choice it had been. Not somber, but uplifting, full of the Lord’s love and support, a reminder that the compassionate arms of God are there for all of us.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
From Chengdu, on this Sunday of Prayer, I wish you all , "Ping An" (Peace!)
Reminder for those wishing to help:
United Methodists: UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response, China Earthquake