Thursday, September 08, 2005


A Time For God's Love In Action

By Janice Price

The magnitude of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation is hard to fathom. The sheer number of evacuees, now called refugees by many, has overwhelmed government and disaster agencies. One of the chief complaints is that there has been – and continues to be – a lack of leadership in the ranks of those who are supposedly our protectors and leaders.. This has cost many lives and wasted time and resources.

Volunteers are called upon. They respond and are left sitting, anxious and eager to do whatever job they have been trained to do, but no one seems to know what to do with them. So much valuable time that could have been invested in saving lives has been lost forever in inaction and passing the blame. If two hundred volunteer boat owners arrive at the appointed time to begin an organized search and rescue and are left to sit around idle for many hours day after day, is it any wonder the number drops quickly and those that remain “revolt” and go out on their own?

Those who are now scouring New Orleans to evacuate the last of the residents from their homes find that many don’t want to leave. Some have lived in one place all their lives and have never been far from home, and they don’t want to leave now.

There is a sense of security for many in being at home; people feel safer in their homes than they could in any shelter. Most of the country is mobile, moving and changing jobs, taking vacations and visiting relatives out of state. We have no concept of what home means to someone who has little and has likely never traveled.

Many absolutely refuse to leave their pets behind to die. There are several animal rescue groups in New Orleans and other ravaged cities. The searchers could pass on the location of these folks. Once the pets are safe, many of the residents would leave without further protest. They have stayed with their pets through the hurricane, flooding and lack of food, water and sanitary conditions. What makes anyone believe they are going to just abandon them to die now?

It is so easy for those of us who were not in the midst of the horrors of Hurricane Katrina to criticize decisions made by others. Often we think we have all the solutions to the decisions every one else should make, but in a crisis we can act just as irrationally and grab the morning newspaper instead of the checkbook or other important papers, or make worse mistakes than those we criticize in others.

This is a time for us to display empathy to those displaced by the storm, whether or not we agree with all the decisions each made. We cry, overcome with emotion, by merely watching the newscasts; they have survived and are traumatized. Many escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some managed to save a few possessions. Many carried pets, which were wrenched from them and left to die. Is it any wonder those who still sit in whatever is left of their homes are refusing to be rescued without their pets?

Thousands of refugees are in shelters, being moved from state to state, farther and farther away from their homes. Some will return when they are allowed. Some will never return, instead beginning their lives over in new areas. Churches and individuals offer homes and help to evacuees.

And, as always in a disaster, a variety of agencies are on the scene to offer aid.. Since I volunteer with the local American Red Cross Chapter, this is the organization that comes to mind first. There are other reputable groups using volunteers and collecting donations to help disaster victims – and Hurricane Katrina is the largest disaster in the history of the United States.

To Find Missing Loved Ones: Visit the Red Cross Family Links Registry
or Call 1-877 LOVED-1S (1-877-568-3317)

To find a shelter --1-888-GET-INFO

To make a disaster donation -- 1-800-HELP-NOW (Spanish 1-800-435-7669), ARC Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013

FEMA evacuee registration -- 1-800-621-3362

There are also many animal rescue groups within the disaster area that are working tirelessly, existing solely on donations and prayers. A team from Carolyn Keeton’s All Cats, Inc., out of Valley, Alabama, has been in New Orleans since Wednesday, September 1st. United Way has now asked them to send some of their crew to Mississippi. They are a small group of volunteers doing a fantastic job under adverse conditions.

Disasters bring out the worst in people; for example, the scammers who pretend to be collecting for your favorite charity. What they are actually collecting for is their favorite charity – themselves. So, please, before you donate, make certain you are actually contributing to the charity you think you are. Scams are rampant during a disaster.

Disasters also bring out the best in people. There are so many stories of kindness, generosity and downright heroism arising from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

As always, Americans have reacted to a tragedy with an outpouring of mixed emotions, open checkbooks, truckloads of donated necessities, and a will to serve. No matter how many accusations of blame are tossed about, or how many mistakes were made by the evacuees or rescuers, when the chips are down, Americans step up to the plate and put something on it to share with others. America is not perfect, as almost anyone will gladly tell you, but it is still a wonderful place to live.

One of the things we are reminded of in a situation such as this one is that life and death are more closely related than we want to think. We are each only a breath away from death. Our homes and possessions are as temporary as this physical life. And when they’re taken from us, all those things we can’t live without today become trivial and unimportant.

What do things matter when we don’t know where our loved ones are, or even if they have survived the storm? Who cares about material things when the roof has blown away and there is no sanitary place to sit down? Who dreams about a mansion while surrounded by suffering children?

It will take months to make New Orleans, and possibly other areas, safe to return to. But restoring and rebuilding will come. Meanwhile, there are many thousands in need of our concern and active help, and not just for a short time. We need to be prepared and committed for a long healing process.

This is a time to demonstrate God’s love in action. There are church groups and individuals reaching out with whatever funds or talents they have available or can collect. There are upcoming fundraisers. But let’s not forget the most basic ways to show love: a listening ear, a nonjudgmental attitude, an arm around the shoulders without a word being spoken, or a moment shared in prayer.

© 2005 Janice Price