Magnitude of tragedy

There was a tragedy in Mexico City – 23 were killed when a train derailed. And without taking away from the tragedy this represents to their families, the thought occurs – does this sort of event, which often makes headlines, make headlines because it is a ‘tragedy’ or ‘bad press’, or because it truly does represent a significant increase in deaths?

A quick Google search tells us Mexico’s overall death rate per year averages about 6 per 1,000. Mexico’s population in 2020 was estimated at 128,932 thousands. Mexico City had a population of 21,782 thousands (21.7 million). 6 deaths per 1,000 times 21,782 thousands equates to 130,692 deaths per year in Mexico City. (Granted, this is not absolutely precise; Mexico City’s death rate may be higher than the country’s. But it’s likely accurate enough for our purposes.)

130,692 deaths per year, divided by 365, equals 358 deaths per day in Mexico City.

23 divided by 365 = 6%.

So that means the people who were killed in the tragedy represent an additional 6% over the typical death rate. (Although, I don’t know how frequently similar disasters occur in Mexico City – this one got press, but perhaps there are similar accidents every day, and thus this isn’t really an ‘increase.’)

Doing these kinds of statistics, while grey and grim, do remind us of the pulse of birth and death. This is the constant background of the work of ministry and the life of the church. People are being born, living, and dying outside the scope of the Gospel.

Still, it is good to have individual stories, in order to guard ourselves against the numbness of big data. The old, oft-attributed-to-Stalin quote: “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Yet we know the the tragedy of the million deaths by seeing the individual ones, and feeling God’s heart for them. 358 deaths divided by 24 equals 14 deaths per hour across Mexico City, or 1 every 5 minutes. Many of those will be believers, but some obviously are not. God knows every single one of them, just as he knows every sparrow that falls. The passion of strategies to reach the lost arises most out of getting to know the plight of individuals better.