The main drag of Eclectic, AL, a town of just over 1100 people, was abuzz with activity. FEMA and National Guard representatives had set up in an unused commercial space, processing paperwork and asking and answering questions. Right next door, a warehouse was packed with donated clothing, household goods, cleaning supplies, and food. Volunteers organized and sorted these goods under the watchful eye of Stacy, whose kindness, energy, and sheer will to help her community permeated the room. As a woman walked out the door, she turned and thanked Stacy and all of the volunteers for their efforts, and told Stacy that she needed a few more things to set up a temporary home, as hers had been destroyed by the tornado.
"I may come back for a few more things," she said, wearily, a little embarrassed by her needs.
Putting her arm around her, Stacy was direct, but full of love.
"No, No, No. Not 'may come back.' Do come back. Whatever you need."
Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering and I had come to Alabama just the day before. From Birmingham to Montgomery, we spent time surveying the tornado damage and visiting with some area churches involved in the recovery effort in order to see how Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, and these caring, resourceful congregations might partner to help-not only in meeting immediate needs-but by supporting efforts for long-term recovery.
The recovery in Eclectic, supported in part by volunteers from First Christian Church, Montgomery, was but one of our stops.
We toured neighborhoods demolished by tornados in Concord, Pleasant Grove, and Pratt City. We visited First Christian Church, Birmingham, where church members had quickly responded by collecting and transporting water and other supplies to those affected by the tornados. In Tuscaloosa, which saw massive damage when the tornados touched down, we met with a number of churches in the immediate area, all eager and hopeful, knowing that there must be a way they could respond.
It was a trip that was both hope-filled and heartbreaking. We heard gripping stories, catalogued needs, and marveled at both the ways in which communities have already responded and the tremendous needs that remain. It was a remarkable witness to what caring congregations can offer, and a testament to the possibilities of partnership between different ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Yet there is much work ahead of us. In terms of the disaster response timeline, it is very early in the process. Long-term recovery committees are yet to form. Potential community-based partners are slowly emerging. The initial cleanup is still in full swing, and Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering are doing what we do best: looking for ways to support an efficient, long-term response that continues to meet needs long after the news cameras have left.
As a ministry of your church, this is what we do. As Stacy might say, "There's no 'may come back' about it." Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering will be there for the long haul.
The Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Montgomery area was not the only place affected by the tornados. We have been in communication with our churches in Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee about needs that are emerging in our churches and communities across those regions. From Smithville, MS, to Cleveland, TN, we are working to respond in helpful, efficient, responsible ways.
Flood Watch along the Mississippi
In a season filled with disasters, we are continuing to monitor communities along the banks of the Mississippi River. We have supported a community ministry in West Memphis, AR, to provide food and supplies to those affected by flooding, and an effort of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Memphis, TN, to provide housing and food for those displaced by flooding. As the swelling river continues to barrel south, we are monitoring the situation and will respond as necessary.
If you would like to join with us in responding to the many needs that have arisen this spring, we welcome your donations, either made online or by check to WoC, PO Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206.
As always, we thank you for your commitment, your support, and your Courageous Compassion. Your generosity reflects God's love and care for those hurting, in need, and in flux.