All day long, my soul has ached for the people of the northeast. The pictures that are coming out of the area damaged by hurricane Sandy are astounding. Millions without power. Homes and businesses destroyed by flood waters and even fires. Lives lost. It’s hard to even wrap our minds around such devastation.
I’ve also thought a lot today about our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Teams. They are often the very first people into an afflicted area to bring essentials such as food, water, and medical supplies. These highly trained volunteers stand by, ready to mobilize whenever they are needed. I am not able to go physically and help. But I am able to give financially through my church to help support those who can go.
But all of this has also got me thinking about how we respond in any crises, whether it be a natural disaster, a tragic illness, a manmade disaster, loss of a loved one, or another devastating event in the life of a person.
I’ve not experienced a natural disaster first-hand like the losses suffered in Sandy. However I have experienced the devastating experience of having my husband, who was a minister at the time, be arrested and jailed for unspeakable acts, and the resulting divorce and flood of destruction that event caused in my life and the life of my family. And, on the other side of that event, I can honestly say that it was the Christ-like reaction of the people who surrounded me along with the amazing grace of God, that rescued me from certain and crippling defeat in this life. They provided me with Food, Clothing and Shelter, the basics we need to survive. Here’s how they did it:
Food: My memory of much of those days and weeks immediately following the disaster in my life is somewhat hazy, but I do remember food. Of course, this is one of the first things we think of in a crises, is to provide food. Casseroles, cakes, sandwiches, etc. And I do remember physical food being provided. But even greater than that, was the food that was fed to my weakened soul. My belief in God was shaken in those dark days. And yet my friends patiently fed me truth about God, through scripture and prayer. I remember thinking over and over again, “Tell me about God. Tell me about God.” because my soul was searching for some sort of foundation that wasn’t going to shift. And my friends did. A group of dear, sweet older ladies at my church who pray together every single week, surrounded me and prayed fervently for me and for my children, and yes, for my husband, with such passion that it causes me to almost weep now remembering it. And day after day, I was gently pushed by a friend to pursue God through scripture work. At first I couldn’t even open my computer (where my scripture work takes place through my Bible Software), but slowly through tremendous encouragement I got there. I got there. And had I not gotten there, I don’t know where I would be today.
Provide your devastated friend with food. Physical food, but also spiritual food, when they are ready. Ask God to show you what to say and do to feed them this vital, life-giving food. Matthew 4:4 says:
This is truth. I know it to be truth in my life. Life comes from the word of God.
Clothing: Another essential we think of in a disaster, particularly a natural disaster, is clothing. People are always very quick and gracious to donate gently used clothing to those who have lost everything in a disaster such as a tornado or a fire. But the clothing I am speaking of here is very different. This is the clothing that the responders wear in dealing with anyone who has experienced a tremendous crises. It’s found in Colossians 3:12:
Other translations say “Clothe yourselves…….in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And that is exactly what those around me and my children did. They clothed themselves in compassion. In Kindness. In gentleness and patience. The acts of kindness are too, too numerous to recount here. But I can honestly say that I was surrounded by people who took this verse to heart. It’s funny, but never in my life had I felt more loved and cared for, than in the very darkest days of my life. And isn’t that what church is about? We are family. We are called to be compassionate with each other. To be kind, gentle and patient with each other, instead of tearing one another down, refusing to forgive each other. (Col 3:13). I am so blessed to have friends and a church–and an entire community, who spoke Jesus’ love to me through their active living out of Colossians 3:12.
Shelter: Many of those in the wake of Sandy have lost their shelter, such a basic need. They will need the help of the Red Cross, FEMA, and other disaster relief agencies to help them from shelter. I, too, needed shelter during my crises. My children and I first needed immediate physical shelter. I had friends at the time who graciously took us into their home, allowing us to hide and grieve and to determine what our next move was going to be. This was a tremendous, tremendous gift to us, one that I’ll never be able to repay, though I wish I could desperately. There are all sorts of ways to provide shelter. Maybe God will call you to take someone into your home. Or maybe you can provide a safe place for a person to be honest and grieve and figure out what they are going to do, just by being a listening friend. Maybe there are ways you can protect a hurting person from the storm that is raging against them, whether that protection is physical protection or mental/spiritual protection. In Matthew 25:35, Jesus says:
Other translations say “I was a stranger and you invited me in”. Provide shelter for those who are experiencing a crises. Provide the shelter of the protection of a physical place, or the protection of prayer, or the protection of a safe place to start to gather the pieces again.
Food, Clothing, Shelter. The basic needs of life. I am so blessed to have had friends that provided me with these things. I am so blessed to be a member of a church that provided me these things, and continues to love and provide them to me and my family and to others in need. I’ll never, ever be able to repay anyone for what they have done for my children and I.
But maybe that is what grace and mercy is about.