In God We Trust
On a bright, gleaming Saturday morning walk in the small community of Rita, I met Eli and Mary Rose Silk, the Marshallese pastors of the Salvation Army Church. They were somewhat modest and soft-spoken, asking me to take pictures of the children around the church building rather than themselves. But they were generous and open in conversation- freely discussing their weather and water related experiences in the Marshall Islands and their thoughts on the future.
Pastor Silk: The weather is changing here- the tide has changed. Some places, like in Laura [this seemingly pristine, gorgeous point at the far end of Majuro], the tide now reaches the trees. The sand there washes away with the waves, and sometimes yards there flood now. When I was young, it wasn’t like that. It’s different now. The trees are flooded, and now they fall into the sea. The breadfruit are smaller now- nearly half the size they used to be. Some of the places we used to play in when we were young are gone. When we were young, there were occasional typhoons, sometimes people even died in the storms. But now, there is standing water in the streets after it rains, or when the tide swells.
I ask why now? Why the change?
Pastor Silk replies: As a pastor, I know that everything is under “him” [referring to God], and that the end is clearly coming closer, as evidenced by these increasing and intensifying weather events.
I want to delve deeper here, and ask: Do you think the end will come at a different time than, say, California?
To which Pastor Silk replies: Well, we don’t know, because it’s [climate] killed more people than in the Marshall Islands so far. Even though we live on very low land, we don’t see disasters like you have because of weather in California, like fire, earthquakes, or floods that you have elsewhere in your country.
I’m impressed and humbled by his insight here. Yes, of course we have climate-related disaster in our country, but you don’t hear us talking about with his candor very often.
I want to know more about what weather-related disaster looks like in the Marshall Islands. I ask about the King Tide season, from December to February when the seas intensify and the waves grow. Pastor Silk’s wife, Mary Rose Silk, perks up.
Mary Rose: Mothers get nervous, scared even, during this time. Our little children used to run around and play freely, but as the King Tide season comes now, with its storm surges and waves, we grab our kids and get inside. Sometimes they announce these storms on the radio now, and we’re told to evacuate our homes. It’s happened four times already this year. It never used to happen.
I ask if they believe that climate change is real-
Mary Rose, with conviction in her voice: Yes, I believe it’s happening because I’ve seen the changes.
She is emphatic and sincere. Pastor Silk seems more hesitant, like the question I’ve asked is more complicated and multi-faceted than the question I asked his wife.
Pastor Silk: [after a delay]… Yes, I believe it’s happening. But I mostly just depend on God. I try not to worry.
I probe a little on this, because it reminds me of a comment from James Bing III, a a young, thoughtful, smart Marshallese man in his 20s who I recently met with in Washington and who will appear on Drowning Islands soon. Pastor Silk happens to know James Bing III’s family, and so I mention that from James’ perspective, God may have promised that he would never flood the earth, but that he said nothing about what mankind would do. Many scientists believe that climate change is at least exacerbated by human activity, not God
Pastor Silk: Yes, God promises never to flood the earth again. Our island is low and small. But lots of the things going on in the world- we don’t see them here. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados… Why? Because he’s caring for us. But if we don’t believe in him or make him happy… that’s God’s problem and he’ll take care of it.
I ask if they think that Americans, Chinese, or Australians, for starters, should do something different about the way that we live in order to protect small islands.
Pastor Silk almost immediately responds, in a seemingly forgiving and generous way that only God can make this sort of sea-change. But Mary Rose seems troubled. She is quiet for a moment, then asks:
Mary Rose: Do you think that big places, big cities, are the ones that cause this problem?
I quickly confide that I am not a scientist, and that I am not able to crunch numbers and analyze weather patterns the way that those in meteorology and climate sciences can (and do). But, I hasten to add my parting words-
If changing the way that I live, if emitting less carbon and supporting governmental policies that encourage and enforce this sort of action MIGHT help the problem, then I will do it.
To this, they both vigorously nod.
[An important aside- Pastor Silk wants to read this blog, send and receive emails, and allow community children the use of their computer. However, their nearly archaic computer broke several months ago and they are awaiting funds to send it for repair in Honolulu. If you would like to help buy a new computer for this community, leave a comment or send me an email at email@example.com]