Disaster Relief: The Joys and Sorrows

Part of my life has always gone toward working beyond the local church to those those suffering trauma, loss and disaster.  It began with a suggestion from a former Pastor as I was moving to Robbinsville.  He simply said, “Join the Fire Department.”   It turned out to be good advice.  There was literally nothing else to do. No movie theater, no mall, closest grocery store was 45 miles away.  Unless you really liked football, (for which 5,000 people would show up in a county of 7,000) the options were few. I ended up a fire department chaplain for twenty-two years, serving four departments before officially retiring.

Five years ago I was accepted as part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team. My first deployment was to New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. Due to caring for my mother, then other personal issues, have not been able to be respond as I wanted. This year I’ve been invited to go as a chaplain to a number of places: Houston, TX and Mississippi for Floods, Canada for the severe Fires.  This was the first opportunity I have had to be deployed.

Might add, while known for their natural disaster work, The RRT have specially trained volunteers for domestic violence:  In the last two months our teams have been in Houston and Baton Rough for the police shootings.  We had 45 chaplains in Orlando following the shootings there. The RRT chaplains have responded to every major shooting since Newtowne, CT. There are French speaking chaplain in France and Europe who have responded in Paris, Munich, and Nice.

In 35 years since becoming a Fire Department Chaplain as well as 41 years as a Pastor I have seen both the joys and sorrows, the good and bad, and yes, the ugly, very ugly.  The time recently spent in West Virginia was so typical.  Met good people helping each other.  Volunteers from all over the country:  Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, and Virginia, to name only a few. Met a couple who were team leaders.  I knew him from somewhere.  We both had each made our first mission to New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. The Church in Charleston not only opened its door for 100 people to sleep and eat, but also came in each morning at 5 am to fix breakfast.  Some were still there at 7 that night cleaning up.

Then there was the not so good.  The trauma of so much loss, of neighbor not helping neighbor, looting (saw a lot of open carry of weapons.)  People who lost so much getting no help while others over run with too much help.  People going from relief distributor to relief distributor and taking supplies, only to have them discovered at the local Flea Market selling piles of it.  (Many of the relief agencies have taken to marking their items for non-resale.)

Over the next few sessions I want to share of my experiences.  Not sure how as for the moment some of the sorrows outweigh the joys.  But in it all, God is still God.   God’s kingdom has not fallen.  Evil has not triumphed.  Jesus is still lord.



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