As I continue to process the experiences from my time in Bowling Green, Kentucky serving in disaster relief response with IDES, I will try posting some “Jesus in the midst of disaster” stories as I get the opportunity.
Here are some thoughts from Day One:
The Sky Is Falling
My first full day in Bowling Green was a long day and I am extremely grateful that God had helped me to prepare through a multi-session “Complex Trauma and Disaster and Emotional Spiritual Care” counseling training course I completed earlier this year. My usual role in volunteering for disaster response has been running chainsaws and helping with tree cleanup and removal from homes and property. While I did a little bit of that during my time in Kentucky, that did not end up being my primary work during this deployment.
After delivering a couple chainsaws to one of the volunteer groups that was involved in tree work, I took some tarps and supplies to a group doing debris cleanup in one of the hardest hit neighborhoods — a neighborhood that experienced multiple fatalities. It was here that I spent much of the day learning in earnest the value of listening to the stories people were desperate for someone to hear. While I did some debris cleanup that day, most of it was entering into the trauma and emotions of people in a way that gave them a safe space to share what they couldn’t keep inside but had found nowhere to unload it without burdening their neighbors. My training had prepared me as much as possible to listen, so that is what I did. Many of the stories from this neighborhood were filled with so much gut-wrenching emotion and raw pain that it was amazing to see a spirit of peace come over individuals as they were allowed to unload.
Many stories had an element of guilt mixed with gratitude over being spared while others were not. One resident I listened to expressed that mix as he talked about seeing the debris flying by his windows as he sheltered in place the best he could. As the tornado went over, he kept hearing a voice crying out, “Help me! Help me!” It was a voice he couldn’t ignore so he went outside in the midst of the storm to see if he could find the person needing help. As he stood outside listening for the voice, he saw a dog fly by and then a log flew through the air and crashed through the roof of his house. The voice was no longer being heard so he went inside to find that the log was now in his home where he had been before going outside to check on the mysterious voice. There was concern because he was never able to find the person he heard calling for help, but he was also filled with gratitude because he was safe. After listening to his story and praying that God’s peace would fill his heart and mind, I went on to find another person that needed a listening ear.
As the sun set that evening, it was difficult to leave the area knowing that there was much work of many kinds still needing to be done. The sky had indeed fallen and people wanted to know they were being heard and they needed to encounter Jesus in the midst of their experiences. I am thankful to God that He not only equipped me, but He sustained me in the work. Whether in the chaos of disaster or the chaos of life, I pray that each of us take the time to listen to people whenever their sky is falling.
Tom, what you have written is so true. Disaster happens, life is messy, and we often need to know that we are heard. It isn’t just other people but so many turn to God but miss that small voice when we expect a loud commanding presence!