by Ron Williams
“Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I sat where they say, and remained there astonished among them seven days” (Ezek. 3:15).
Wednesday, April 27, 2011, will go down in the history of time as one of the most deadly and destructive days of tornado episodes in the southern United States of America. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there were a total of 362 tornados that occurred that day, with a total of 340 people killed by the storms.
In my home state of Alabama, to-date there were 241 known casualties caused by sixty tornados that plowed through the state on that fateful day. Records indicate that 2,200 people were injured by the storms and 14,000 homes were either destroyed or left uninhabitable. In my hometown of Tuscaloosa (Northport), some 43 people were killed by the tornados that devastated that university town. The Central Church of Christ, in their same location since 1967, received heavy damage, and the building site has since been cleared for rebuilding.
Within just a few hours after the tornado, brethren from Central were on-site grilling food and handing out water to some 1500 people that first day of the disaster. From then until now, some two months later, the congregation there in coordination with its sister congregation, Northport, and other brethren from across the country, have continued to minister to those in the Tuscaloosa-area needing help. Several “disaster relief” church teams, along with more than 500 caring brethren from at least ten states will come this summer to work in disaster recovery efforts.
A few days ago, in a personal conversation with a minister who is serving as a coordinator of this disaster relief effort, he told of several important lessons that have been learned during these work days.
One, it is rather hard for people that face such a devastation as this to focus on spiritual matters with physical chaos all around them. These citizens are trying to bring some kind of balance into their lives with the physical concerns and emergencies they are facing; the church there in Tuscaloosa is “meeting these needs first” as they build a bridge to the more important spiritual needs of these citizens.
Secondly, they are learning that “timing is everything” when it comes to being a real help to the Tuscaloosa community. The church there purposely decided to stay on site at their building, although their structure has been torn down due to the tornado disaster. People who need help are coming to them when they need tree debris removed from their property, when they need food and water, or when they have financial needs. In other words, these brethren have learned that maintaining a presence in their community, in spite of the devastation of their own building, is opening doors to the community for future growth and potential evangelistic efforts.
Thirdly, they have learned that successful disaster relief efforts are always more effective if it is “a team effort,” instead of trying to go it alone within a community. The Northport congregation and other area-churches have supported these efforts; they have provided necessary things such as housing, meals, food, showers for the workers, and such while the Central congregation has provided the on-site presence of daily operations for work to be done. A minister from the West Monroe, LA “We Care” program is present on-site, always available to talk to anyone about spiritual matters of life. Through these efforts, ten individuals have been baptized, and future opportunities will be available for the Central congregation to follow up in time to come.
Psychologically, in times of disaster and grief caused by such losses, people need these things:
They need someone to show that they genuinely care for them and their catastrophic losses of life and property. Do not make the mistake of minimizing their losses, whatever they may be, whether they be large or small in proportion to others’ losses.
They need someone to take the time with them to listen; they will not listen to what you have to say you until you have gained their trust and respect.
They need someone that shows that they are living a life worthy of imitation; one’s actions speak much louder than any words one might say.
They need to be reminded that you are not there just for the moment; you (i.e. the church) will be there continually for them as they deal with these losses in their life.
Finally, they need to receive love; something mind-boggling has happened to them; what better time than to show them God’s love through His Son’s church and His people making an impact in their lives!
Ron Williams preaches for the Lincoln Church of Christ in Huntsville, Alabama, is chaplain for Alabama’s Department of Public Safety, and co-author of the book Walking with Those Who Weep. He can be reached at email@example.com.