Helping in Times of Disaster

The pictures coming out of Alabama are unbelievable. Our friends and neighbors south of us woke that morning expecting another round of storms like many we’ve all seen before. By the time they tried to get to sleep in the local shelters that night, they had seen nature’s fury unleashed at record levels. For those of us to the north, we watched in horror while we also breathed a sigh of relief knowing that just a few miles difference in the path of the jet stream could have sent those storms our way.

Last year, right at this time, our city was faced with rains that wouldn’t stop for two days, leading to a flood of epic proportions. This year, we watch with sadness as our friends to the north along the Ohio River and our friends to the west along the Mississippi, face record flooding and similar destruction. We hold our breath in the hope and prayer that the rains will stop here and we won’t face the waters again, as we wonder what we can do to help.

New Orleans, Indonesia, Haiti, Japan – the calamities seem never ending. At almost any time there is someone in the world facing the destruction of property and home due to the untamable power of this world God has given us. And in the face of that pain and despair, we as Christian people long to offer a clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, and the cup of cool water in the name of Jesus. Our longing to help is great, and our patience in the face of pain and longing is small. And yet, we have seen again and again where the gifts of well meaning people given with the purest of intentions end up causing more difficulty to those trying to recover due to not being what is needed at that moment.

Last year as I coordinated relief efforts in South Nashville, we discovered the following guidelines to be helpful in thinking about responding to disasters:

  • Please don’t just show up without an invitation. Relief coordinators have specific needs, and trying to deal with well meaning folks with no specific skills takes time away from real needs.
  • If a general call for volunteers goes out, plan on bringing your own tools and supplies. In flood recovery efforts this should include face masks (N-95 grade or better), hammers, pry bars, and appropriate clothing.  
  • The best response you can make at this time is to gather specific relief supplies. Don’t just take up used clothing to dump on those who have no place to sort or store that clothing. Focus on the items you would need for immediate recovery. UMCOR has prepared instructions for health and cleanup kits that provide a good sense of what survivors will need.
  • In all honesty, one of the best responses is to give money to reputable agencies engaged in recovery efforts. These include agencies like the Red Cross or UMCOR. These funds are used to address specific needs as they arise, especially those unanticipated situations that always show up in the face of tragedy.
  • Pray!!! The prayers of the faithful are often the most needed element in these responses.

If you want to help our friends dealing with the tornadoes in the South, or our friends dealing with the floods in the West, our church (Old Hickory UMC) will be collecting funds and supplies for cleaning buckets in the coming days and weeks. Most of all, let us gather together in prayer to ask for God to be with all who are trying to put their lives back together in a special way.

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