Through the news media and internet we receive amazing insights into events around the world. On-the-spot reports and photographs enable us to see the people and their situations closeup. Sometimes the newsreader gives a warning that some of the images may be distressing. This weekend I saw a photograph of Rohingya Muslims crossing the Naf river to escape from Myanmar into Bangladesh. About fifty desperate men, women and children were crowded on a raft made of plastic containers that looked as if it was almost sinking.
Other photographs showed Rohingya women and children with wounds and burns received when they were attacked by soldiers and their houses were set on fire. They had escaped, but husbands and brothers had been killed. It is estimated that there are 1 million Rohingya Muslims refugees in Bangladesh in need of food, shelter and medical care.
Recent media reports from Yemen also show a terrible humanitarian crisis. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis rebels has caused massive shortages of food and water. It is estimated that 3.2 million people are at risk of famine and 150,000 malnourished children could die in the next month. In both Myanmar and Yemen the conflict is caused by people who hate their fellow human beings.
An expert in the law once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus answered the man by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. There was a long standing bitter rift between Jews and Samaritans. They had nothing to do with each other. In the parable a Jewish man was attacked and robbed on a lonely road and was left half dead. Two Jewish religious leaders passed the man and did nothing to help him. Then a Samaritan saw the man and took pity on him. He bandaged his wounds, put him on his donkey and took him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he left the man in the care of the innkeeper and promised to pay whatever it cost.
Then Jesus asked the expert in the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” God commands us all to “love our neighbour as we love ourselves.” God expects us to love all people, even those who may be our natural enemies, and to show that love in a practical way.
The death toll following the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory complex in Bangladesh has risen to more than 600 people. Rescue workers are exhausted and the relatives of the victims are grief stricken as each day bodies are brought out of the ruins of the eight-storey building. This is Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster. A preliminary government investigation thinks that vibrations from four generators on the upper floor caused the collapse. The generators were started following a power cut sending powerful vibrations throughout the building which, together with the vibrations from thousands of sewing machines, may have triggered the collapse.
The building was designed to be used for offices and shops and was poorly constructed. It housed an intensive clothing industry making cheap clothes for the Western world. The Bangladeshi Finance Minister said that steps are being taken to prevent similar accidents but he does not think the collapse will seriously impact the country’s garment industry. Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world.
This tragedy brings home to us the realities of living in a Global Village. Factory workers in places like Bangladesh work very long hours and earn very low wages. A factory worker in Bangladesh works up to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earns £40 a month. The designer clothes they make are sold in affluent countries for very low prices. Large companies make big profits and shoppers in affluent countries find bargains. Should the tragedy in Bangladesh make us think?
God is deeply concerned for social justice and for the oppression of poor people. In the New Testament James challenges the rich who have much more than they need yet do not care for the poor. He writes, “Look here, you rich people, weep and groan because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgement. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” We pray that God will comfort the bereaved in Bangladesh and that we will be concerned that workers there should work in safe buildings and be paid a fair rate for their labour.