When four Florida hurricanes destroyed his crop, Dale Bass, owner of Golden Harvest Fruit Company, realized he was "out of business" until the next season. As the premier shipper of high-quality citrus to churches and schools for fundraising, Dale also understood that many entities would feel the impact as they, in turn, suffered from the lack of shipments and the shortfall of needed income.
Even with no fruit to ship, the business must maintain its contacts, care for its employees, and assure future deliveries. More immediate in the disaster, however, was the trauma of lost homes, jobs, transportation, heirlooms, communication, pets, and even lives. Charitable and governmental agencies move into such disaster areas to provide rescue and long-term rebuilding aid; but even before they arrive, congregations can provide specific help if pre-crisis planning has occurred.
"How do you spell relief?" This very slogan of the famous antacid medicine recognizes that the first great need may be to reduce pressure.
In the midst of disaster, many people become disoriented, experiencing both emotional and physical shock. Victims do not always respond with logic to devastating events. For example, in these same hurricanes, Sharon's 70- something-year-old mother decided she would climb onto her house roof to check the damage caused by a falling tree. While insurance agencies would clearly warn church volunteers against becoming roof-repairers, 1 would much rather a younger neighbor had climbed that ladder than a senior citizen.
Where do you start? Dale says, "When someone has lost everything, that is exactly what they need—every thing! A bottle of water, a thermos of soup, a place to sleep." His Ft. Pierce congregation opened its facilities for people to sleep on the pews, established a hot-meal program in the neighborhoods, and began to serve rescuers who had come to work the larger effort. There's a whole lot of religion in a loaf of bread. Add peanut butter and jelly and they will never forget you.
Sometimes the greatest kindness is simply "being there" to sit alongside someone who has experienced great loss. Eloquence is not needed. Your very presence communicates care, concern, camaraderie, and confidence in God's providences. As Saint Francis admonished, "Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words." If you must speak, talk of a hope-filled future; of better days to come. Don't preach, but do articulate hope, assurance, and your personal belief in the ultimate triumph of good over tragedy and evil. And do listen. Allow those whose lives have been uprooted to share their pain. Just the ability to talk about their feelings of loss brings them real stress relief.
How do you spell re-live? Simple actions make a great contribution. Try helping sort the debris of a destroyed house for photos, hauling away trash, running errands, providing emergency child care, sharing transportation, loaning your mobile phone, contacting animal shelters, or phoning relatives. By helping victims focus on the future, you enable them to struggle out of the immediate chaos toward restoration of normal life patterns. Clothing, food staples, household supplies, bedding, and kitchen equipment may top the list of needed items. When people begin rebuilding their lives, they need every thing.
By advance thinking and planning, your church can organize processes to collect and distribute supplies and money in cooperation with other help agencies. A well-maintained database of care groups, crisis counselors, medical centers, insurance companies, and other volunteer organizations will provide vital information for a future crisis. You can also follow up by offering grief-and-loss-recovery support groups.
How do you spell re-leaf? Dale's citrus groves will re-leaf and produce new fruit. Generous souls will grow again into abundant harvests.
Likewise, a certain "re-leafing" will flourish in your own heart. If you have ministered to strangers through traumatic times, you will discover a host of new friends in whose lives you have invested and in. whose souls you have become family. Your own perspective will change concerning life's real essentials as less important issues are eclipsed by the things that really count in life. Opportunities will expand for your congregation to share expertise and to experience fellowship with individuals who, previously, had not been open to the gospel.
And as you plan, remember, "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me.'"1
1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1905), 143.