On Disaster Relief: A Personal Note

Thank you.  Thank you to all the first responders who have done a year’s worth of work in the last 4 days.  Thank you to volunteers both locally and who have come from far a way to help.  Thank you to all those have finally been unleashed by the falling waters and so desperately want to help now.  Thank you.

I said in an earlier post that this was a relay marathon.  Welcome to mile 5.  Right now in Deer Park (where I pastor), we are scrambling around because the water is low enough that we can finally move and be of use.  Shelters are opening, new places are taking donations, it’s great.  It is also frustrating because as soon as there is a call for volunteers, it’s filled.  By the time we post a need for supplies, the place is at capacity.  It is the best kind of frustrating, but I know it is still frustrating when you want to help and feel turned away.  Or when your church isn’t the center point for an effort.  Or when you see needs and just can’t get there yet because the water is falling achingly slow.

But this is mile 5.  There will be more calls for food, more opportunities to volunteer.  They’ll come tomorrow and the next day and the next.  And they will keep coming for months.  Don’t feel guilty if you were turned away today.  Don’t resent what other people are doing even if you feel sidelined.

Most of all don’t let your need to help exhaust you, or make you resentful.  Every single hand will be needed in some way.  I promise.  Keep watching for calls.  Keep checking with your church (if you don’t have a church, check with the one down the road). Celebrate when places have all they need.  And wait for the next one.

To paraphrase a much wiser friend:

Disasters come in waves.  First, there is the disaster itself.  There is chaos and upheaval and we do what we can to respond quickly to what is most immediate.  Second, there is the imperfect recovery.  We do our best to rebuild knowing that some people will get hurt, some people will get lost, and the systems we build might not help everyone as much as they need.  But we do our best.  Third, there is the exhaustion.   When the rest of the world has moved on, and there are too many things only half done.  When every resource gets scarce including energy to volunteer.

It is still raining.  We are still in the first wave.  For some of us, the second is insight.  It is imperative that we be discerning, that we channel energy well.  And that we keep a long view on this thing.  Don’t give up.

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