Following the Disaster: Disciples Volunteering on Tornado Response

Josh Baird, Director of Disciples Volunteering, has been hard at work connecting with regions affected by last week’s tornados.  He is currently in conversations with those regions and has dispatched long-term volunteers to connect with organizations that will provide opportunities for hands-on response in affected areas.  He offers the following update and reflection on responding to disasters:

As we read in the scriptures, Elijah’s mountaintop encounter with God came not in the destruction of storm, quake, and fire, but in the grace-filled silence that followed.

Likewise, survivors of disasters often meet God not in the disaster itself but in the time that follows. Shelter is offered, food is served, loved ones reconnected, help extended, and, through it all, hope and grace are shared. The difference, however, is that those who live through a disaster rarely experience the silence we read about in the story of Elijah.  Instead, the chaos continues long after the actual storm.

For those struggling in the chaotic aftermath of disaster, an outpouring of good will can be a blessing.  Yet not all help is equal; some well intended help actually creates more problems than it alleviates. Most communities hit by last week’s tornadoes are still under a curfew. Those hardest hit are cordoned off: roadblocks have been established, and people heading to these areas are being turned away. Several communities also are under a water boil advisory. Food supplies are limited. Where electricity remains out, gas stations are unable to operate their pumps. Available sleeping accommodations are needed for those whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged and for trained first responders whose presence is critical.

Regional and local church leaders from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia are helping gather information and communicate needs as they emerge. Long Term Volunteers are making appropriate connections with response agencies in Illinois and Indiana so that Disciples Volunteering is in a position to channel willing servants when the time is right. Initial work trips will be limited, however, to those who are within a few hours’ drive. To truly be helpful, folks must be able to drive in, serve a half a day or so, and then drive home that night. Initial work groups must also be completely self-contained, carrying everything they might possibly need (food, water, ice, gas, tools, first-aid kits, bug spray, work gloves, etc.).

There will be a time for providing hands-on assistance, a time when help is needed with clean-up and debris removal. That time will come soon enough; but it is not yet. It is important that we understand what people are going through right now, and that we give these communities a chance to bring a little order to the chaos they have experienced. They will pause, soon enough, and find some brief moments of silence. They will rest, momentarily, and begin to identify needs that others can help them meet. Then it will be appropriate for others to join them, to offer hope, healing, and a helping hand.

The outpouring of support after a disaster means a great deal to those who are struggling in the midst of on-going chaos. Until these communities are ready to receive outside servants, please know that your prayers and your gifts to Week of Compassion make a critical difference. Until the time is right, answering the call to PRAY, PAY, and STAY makes the biggest difference. Through actions such as these, God is experienced as surely as Elijah experienced God on that mountain; God is present before our presence is appropriate. Thank you for your continued compassionate response.