Transforming lives in the wake of disaster

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by S. E. Horwood, Captain – 

For The Salvation Army, Doing the Most Good means more than being on hand immediately after a disaster occurs; it also means remaining there to help restore peoples’ lives.

It seems inevitable that as Christians we want to look forward to the good that will come out of tragedy. After all, that’s what we believe: “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him . . .” (Rom 8:28) For Christians, that specific scripture helps mitigate the pain we experience during the crises of life. I suspect today there are thousand of people who are looking for answers that cannot be addressed by FEMA’s and the local government’s assistance. Today, they very well may be seeking answers that reach much deeper into their souls.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left more than destroyed communities in their wake. Through images on front pages and on televisions in living rooms around the world, it left a message: that under the right conditions, the most powerful nation on earth looks just like the poorest. This is very disconcerting to our allies who see their own vulnerability in ours. One can only imagine how our enemies are reacting. The aftermath of the hurricane not only shone a revealing light on our emergency response, it exposed an affected population without access. It demonstrated that people left without tangible, evident structures of security and safety around them are at extreme risk. Whether in a crisis or struggling through daily life, the vulnerable resonate with King David’s plight: “the cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; the cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.” (Psalm 18:4)

Fortunately, the affected were touched first by heroic individuals and organizations that stayed away from the binding webs of red tape––people willing to literally immerse themselves in the disaster to save others. The diminutive heroes from our own ranks give us reason to be proud. But, as with any disaster, the emergency response draws the most attention. When the press pulls up stakes, our national attention goes with them. Our challenge will be to remain engaged for the community and the life rebuilding stage.

This is really where the Church, indeed The Salvation Army, should shine the brightest. The opportunity to participate in the reconstruction and transformation of lives is what we do the best. It is at the essence of every program we offer. And the survivors of Katrina must see us and other Christian churches active in affected communities and willing to walk alongside those in need. After all, who better to offer hope and reassurance than those who know that with redemption comes renewal, with relationship comes restoration––of body, mind and spirit.

As I write, I am traveling with a team of bandsmen who have just played in a community of Taiwan that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1999. Having had no presence in that area, the Army responded with emergency assistance. But realizing the opportunity to remain engaged in the recovery of broken communities, the Army remained. During our visit, now six years later, we witnessed the Army’s thriving ministry with full support of the government and local leaders. We participated in early morning prayer services at the corps and helped out in the Army’s court-ordered boys’ placement program, which houses more than 30 troubled youths. The Army has grown wide and deep in a ministry initiated by emergency response.

In Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, we have an even more profound opportunity because the Army has been present in many of those communities for decades. The tragedy of the victims of Katrina and those suffering in every one of our communities will be compounded if we neglect those needing the most help. It is our distinctive ministry, both in disaster services and on a personal level, to point others to the balance of King David’s prayer, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”

Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves means showing those who don’t “love him,” that he hears us, and there is solace in the midst of tragedy, when we seek his presence.

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