‘Go with God’: Living through a storm of pain, despair
By the Rev. Dr. Linda G. Frost
When Hurricane Harvey was ramping up to a Category 4 storm and my area of town was directed to evacuate, I left the coast of South Texas and headed to a town in the Hill Country of Central Texas, northwest of San Antonio. I admit that I was relieved to hear that the storm made landfall north of Corpus Christi. Three days later when the “all clear” was given, I arrived home to find things pretty much as I had left them, without flooding or wind damage. I had electricity and air conditioning.
Motivated by relief and a sense of obligation, I went to the local chapter office of American Red Cross to join the volunteer operation. They referred me to disaster-relief headquarters. As an ordained minister/chaplain with previous experience in Red Cross operations, I was deployed in only a few hours as part of the Disaster Spiritual Care Team. My partners were men and women, both clergy and laity, of various faith traditions. They came from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Wisconsin and California.
My assignments varied day by day, but my task was the same: to promote resilience and “normalize” the experience by assuring people that anger, sadness, anxiety — even relief and gratitude — are expected parts of the recovery experience.
Some days, I went with the bulk distribution truck to deliver cleaning supplies and tools or traveled with emergency-response vehicles to deliver food to areas without power and water. While other team members distributed tools and supplies or dished out hot meals, I offered a tender touch, supportive listening, information and encouragement to people waiting in line.
Other days, I prepared information packets with resource lists and articles on “Returning Home from Disaster,” “Taking Care of Emotional Needs after the Storm” and “Helping Children Cope with Disaster.” Several days, I delivered those packets to pastors, priests and rabbis in the community or to senior and community centers and church-related charities. One Sunday afternoon, I led a worship service at an evacuee shelter. And, I was assigned to the local chapter office several days to answer calls and assist walk-ins who needed information about the process to request Red Cross financial assistance.
It was tough to hear so many sad, sad stories and see anxiety etched on face after face. I watched as a woman came out of her house and carefully locked the door. I asked how she was doing, and we talked a few minutes before she looked toward her house.
“I won’t be coming back,” she said. “There’s nothing to come back to.”
I knew that nothing I could say or do would change her reality. When she looked back at me, I simply opened my arms. She stepped in to receive my hug.
“Go with God,” I said, waving as she drove away. My hope is that her last memory of her storm-tossed home will be a tender one.
We, in South Texas, have a long way to go down this yellow brick road of recovery. But I recall a hand-lettered sign in one of the communities to the north: “We’ll make Fulton [Texas] great again!” It reminds me of the promise from Revelation 21:5: God is “making all things new.”
Offering yourself as a presence of God to people living through a storm of pain and despair is profoundly challenging and meaningful ministry. The many ways to serve include logistics, communications, staffing, record keeping, mass care shelter or feeding, physical and mental health care services and spiritual care.
To become involved, contact your local Red Cross chapter or connect with American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) ongoing Disaster-response Ministries or Volunteer-mobilization Ministries. ABHMS, in partnership with American Baptist Churches USA, has launched the multi-year “Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing Puerto Rico” initiative.
The Rev. Dr. Linda G. Frost is a retired American Baptist-endorsed health care chaplain. She served as an event-based volunteer in Disaster Spiritual Care with American Red Cross after Hurricane Harvey. She resides and ministers in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.