Helping when disaster strikes

An angry storm smashed boats over sandbags, tore out trees and destroyed homes.  It swallowed up oil tanks, e-coli filled septic beds and swamped basements furniture.  Six weeks later, in July 2017, the Vernon B.C. residents were allowed to return after the terrible flooding around Okanagan Lake.  Huston and Florida too, just experienced horrific hurricanes with tragic loss of life and ravaged communities that left residents reeling.  In Vernon that day, we Rapid Relief chaplains looked for a dry spot to park our car, put on our rubber boots and headed off to support residents emotionally and spiritually.   

Returning residents had no water, sewage, or power for the recovery work.  The storm had seriously damaged homes, mold had grown up the walls and mice dropping sat on the counter tops.  The weary residents were greeted by the sickening stench from overflowing septics and rotten refrigerator meat.  Some of the homes were so bad that they would have to be torn down.   

How do you help disaster victims?

There are urgent things that need to be addressed first.  It is urgent that they are out of harm's way and have the basics of life like food, water and shelter.  They need reliable information about how to continue to be safe, that their loved ones are safe too and where to get on-going emergency help.  They may need continued basic services if they can not return to their homes afterwards.  

When we are faced with shock and disaster,  we respond in three primary knee-jerk reactions: fight back, flee or freeze.  The blood is physically directed to the muscles so they can fire instantly to take action and it is shuttled away from the brain.  This means people often feel dazed and confused.  They need help in good decision-making, planning and taking action.    

When they return home, they need physical help with the heavy work of hauling out destroyed possessions, repairing structural damage, dealing with contamination and salvaging treasured items like photos.  They need help with paperwork and dealing with insurance companies.

Does disaster trigger grief?  Most often, yes, because grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.  The residents faced losses due to flood damages to their homes, community and way of life.  They faced huge change in their routine, lives and face big recovery tasks just to live normally again. 

They also need emotional help with their grief.  They need to tell their story, express their feelings and be heard. This helps to sort out what happened but also to express their emotions rather then suppressing them in the body where they can cause chronic stress and trigger physical symptoms.  

They need spiritual support as they grapple questions about the disaster and what it means:

  • Was it a freak act of nature or should they have prepared for this?  
  • Were they being punished? 
  • Was God mad at them?  
  • Is there still a future here for them in this place? 
  • Is it the end or a beginning? 
  • How will they find their way back to hope?  Or to courage? 
  • Will life ever fell safe and normal again? 

If they are people of faith, they often need reassurance that God is still for them, and cares for them. They are often comforted to know someone else is praying for them and seeking God’s help on their behalf because they are dazed and praying is hard.  They may need someone else’s faith to hold them steady in time of trouble.

As a Rapid Relief Chaplain, I prayed with flood victims in Vernon on-site and they were very grateful.  Now home again, I still remember them in prayer and hold them in my heart up to God. I have been asked to deploy to the hurricane sites too and I hope you will join me and hold the victims of the Vernon flood, Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Hosea in your hearts too, as well as others in other recent disasters around the world, to pray for God’s help and mercy.  John Piper verbalized a helpful prayer: 

O Lord, unleash the common grace of kindness from a million hearts [to the needy]...Restrain, O God, the evil hearts of those who would bring sorrow upon sorrow by looting what is left behind, or exploiting loss for private gain.

…how great the sure and solid gift held out to everyone in Christ!: Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword — or wind, or waves?

…For you have made us say with deep assurance: Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor hurricanes nor floods, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And all in Jesus’s name. 

Perhaps you can join me in saying an amen.   Our prayers and blessings are an important help for when disaster strikes.   

Big hugs and love, 

Helga

If you are facing loss, find out the best ways to renew your resilience in a complimentary coaching session with me.  Contact me through my resouces page or e-mail me at coach@helgabender.com

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