Testing our capacity to endure disaster
So often when disaster defies our ability to comprehend it — such as on 9/11 or now, after the shredding tempest of Hurricane Katrina — people ask where God was when the calamity struck. We seem to want not only a scapegoat to flog for all the loss and devastation, but a way to assign divine or human fault for events we do not understand.
Because Katrina was so thoroughly demolishing, there will be no shortage of blame hoisted onto God or, for that matter, onto anyone who might bear the least culpability for failing to anticipate or prepare for such a storm.
But God is not to blame for this tragedy. Instead, we should look for God and the example of Christ in the faces of those who are suffering now, and in the calls for help that will continue for many weeks to come.
Though God’s power was certainly evident in the ferocity of the storm that came ashore on Aug. 29, his love and concern are clearly visible in the countless acts of compassion and care that have followed ever since. Herein is found a most difficult test as well, for God is asking much of those who respond to those in need.
It has been encouraging to see how our Mennonite agencies and congregations have responded already.
Mennonite Disaster Service quickly began assessing the need for relief and reconstruction in the storm zone. Less than a week after Katrina hit, MDS had teams on the ground along the Gulf Coast, not only helping several congregations in the region assess their situations, but looking for ways to bring resources and assistance where they are needed most.
Meanwhile, in Atmore, Ala., where hurricanes last summer left their mark, Pastor Steve Cheramie Risingsun opened the home of Poarch Community Church to about 50 people who had fled the storm in nearby Louisiana. Risingsun, who also pastors another Native American congregation in Grand Isle, La., welcomed these strangers with no questions asked and quickly saw how deeply in need they really were.
Because their burdens were many — including those of at least one elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease — the congregation provided food and hospitality and helped accommodate these unanticipated guests for what would be much more than a short visit. Risingsun said the Poarch congregation will not abandon these orphans of Katrina.
“We’re trying to help them get situated,” he told Disaster News Network. “We’re going to help them get settled here the next couple months. We might help them find some work here. We might try to help pay the first month’s rent for them. They have to decide whether they want to stay or go. They may have some friends, I don’t know.”
As Katrina’s impact is gradually revealed in the days to come, millions of people will make that same uncertain statement — “I don’t know” — especially when it comes to what they will do next, or how they will put their lives back together, some without friends or loved ones who perished in the storm.
But we can know this: God is with all of those who are in such dire need, just as he was with those who endured Katrina’s violence and with those who died in fear and struggle as the storm’s waters rose.
He will remain with those who survive now, and he is calling those who have much, or even just a little, to offer what they can to help them.
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