Jesus was asked: “ Who is my neighbor?” The parable of the Good Samaritan was his response. It is the story of a person who stepped into a disaster with immediate help and long term support. It’s a story that comes to mind as images in the aftermath of the storm are surging into our lives:
Cranes hanging from skyscrapers, newborns being evacuated from hospitals, New York skyline in darkness, paralyzed subway, whole communities burned to the ground, beached tankers, some neighborhoods inundated with water like a spreading lake, other neighborhoods with yards and streets encased in sand looking like a sprawling desert, people shoveling sand or snow from sidewalks, historical boardwalks and buildings in ruins.
Here in our Massachusetts Conference of the United Churches of Christ we are hearing of challenges more than catastrophes. From the Islands to the City; from the Cape to the Berkshires it is largely power outages and downed trees. It rises to the level of frustration and annoyance, but not to the level of catastrophe and devastation. While we continue to offer support to our UCC churches and through them to our communities, our hearts go out to the other regions within the path of Sandy.
In our MACUCC, where we once said disasters don’t happen here, we have become keenly aware of the immediate and long term work that lies ahead. Two weeks ago all of the Disaster Coordinators from UCC Conferences across the country gathered here in Massachusetts for their annual meeting and training. We have learned some lessons along the way:
- Disaster recovery is a marathon not a sprint. We can count on 3 weeks to 3 months of rescue, assessment and stabilization. Then we enter the long term recovery phase that can last from 3 months to 3 years. (Even longer if we look at the continuing work in the aftermath of Katrina)
- Disaster recovery is a unique collaboration. Every denomination has a specific role in disaster recovery as part of a federal government plan. And they work together well as a cooperative effort among faith based organizations, non profits, state and federal agencies. It is one of those experiences where it doesn’t matter what your theology is, what political party you support or what baseball team you cheer.
- In the short term, anyone who is willing and able to volunteer help in the recovery area should first check if there is a need for assistance. We strongly recommend that you do not just show up as the presence of too many volunteers can complicate the lives of those impacted by the storm and the official efforts of first responders. The best way to help is to pray and send funding (see below). Beyond that, there will be specific requests for help coming from agencies tasked in the rescue and recovery efforts. You may want to keep an eye on the Red Cross and the Church World Service websites for volunteer requests. We will also be keeping an eye on requests through the New York Conference and National UCC Disaster Ministries websites and will posting requests on our Conference Website.
- In the long term, recovery wouldn’t happen if it were not for the efforts of people of faith. Long after the media has moved on, and the initial flood of support has evaporated, it is the people of faith who are there to rebuild homes and lives.
- Disasters are happening more frequently and with greater intensity.
How can you help:
- You already are. Your support of OCWM enables our denomination to begin relief efforts immediately with direct support and through our partners. Our National staff are in constant contact with Conference staff throughout the damage zone to facilitate whatever help is needed. Check out http://www.ucc.org/disaster/ for the latest updates.
- Send support. That same website will give you avenues to send funds where they are most needed.
- There is a need to supplement the blood supply. Red Cross has put out a request for blood drives because so many were cancelled due to the storm and the recovery. For more information on how your church could host a blood drive go to http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Sandy-Forces-Cancellation-of-About-300-Blood-Drives
- Keep an eye on our MACUCC Disaster Resource webpage for more information on disaster updates in our Conference and volunteer/support opportunities as they arise. We’ll also keep you updated through the MACUCC weekly emails.
Our prayers continue to go out to all those who are struggling within our Conference and beyond. Our admiration goes out to all our churches and pastors who are offering Christ’s compassion to their communities and beyond.
Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.