Responding to tragedy

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”

I said, “I’m here; send me.”

Isaiah 6:8 (CEB)

This post originally appeared as part of the email devotional ministry of the Portico Collective.

I spent most of Hurricane Harvey sitting on the same couch that I am writing this from. The nice, comfortable, dry couch in my nice, comfortable, dry living room in my nice, comfortable, dry house. I did this for a number of reasons.

• The city officials told people to hunker down to wait out the storm.

• It was raining. A lot.

• My street, and streets around me, spent a significant portion of Friday through Tuesday functioning as rivers rather than thoroughfares. (This is actually an intentional design function of our road system here.)

• I don’t have any special skills, nor a boat, nor am I a first responder.

• A very large oak tree fell across one of the two roads out of my house.

Pretty good reasons, right? You know what they didn’t prevent?

Feeling like a dark mass of guilty nervous energy as I cooked things, watched Netflix, and hung out with my wife and my three dogs.

I say this to tell you that you don’t have to be in another part of the country or the world to feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of this disaster. We are feeling it here, too. Even though we are crying, “here I am, send me!” many of us are finding that there aren’t neat and easy and accessible ways to respond.

Our need to be helpful and to do so on our own terms doesn’t often end well in times of disaster. The sentiment of people who are hellbent on donating supplies instead of money is a common one. Also common? Stories of unnecessary donations overwhelming the infrastructure and logistics of recovery efforts, and countless donations going to waste.

So what the heck do we do after we say, “Here I am Lord, send me?”

Research. Ask. Listen.

The things that have happened here are really, incredibly traumatic. We would love to be reminded that people all over are pulling for us.

Know somebody in Houston? Reach out and tell them you love them. Ask them what they need.

Want to help? Nobody likes this response, but we could really use some cash. Money given to organizations like the United Methodist Church’s UMCOR gets to the disaster and makes a huge difference in long and short term recovery.

Really want to come help? Line up someone to work with first. I know, that’s lame. So was hiding in my house. But it wasn’t lame to avoid becoming someone who needed saving because I got in over my head out of a well-intentioned desire.

Still certain you want to make in-kind or material donations? Figure out what the shelters are asking for, and don’t turn your nose up at the requests. Sometimes, the best thing you can give really and truly is a box of tampons.

One last thing: pray for us. For real. Recovery work is long. It’ll be happening for years to come. We’ll need support: physical, emotional, and spiritual long after the news crews leave.

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