Stories of the Heart: For Such a Time as This! (1/9/22)

Stories of the Heart: For Such a Time as This! (1/9/22)

~

As I continue to reflect on the time I spent working with IDES in taking help and hope to people in Kentucky following a mid-December tornado outbreak, here is another story of the heart.

For Such a Time as This

One of the questions that gets asked in a multitude of ways is some version of why.  You have probably heard it more often than you would like and have perhaps asked it more often than you would care to admit.  Asking why isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it can be quite helpful in a variety of ways to help us learn the story behind the story.

In the midst of all of the usual “Why us?”, “Why here?”, and the why of all the particular details experienced by those who need help, there often comes a why from the outside that ranges from “Why are you doing anything at all?” to “Why are you helping there and not over here?”.  In this particular disaster response, I ended up in Bowling Green, Kentucky but the epicenter of media coverage was in Mayfield, Kentucky so it was not all that surprising that many were asking why we weren’t in Mayfield.

As I’ve had time to reflect, I suppose the simplest answer is that Bowling Green is where God opened a door of effective service for me to do.  It’s not that I, or IDES, could not have been effective elsewhere, but rather this is where God made the connections in order to meet the needs of people.  When I think about the individuals I encountered and was able to listen to, I know God was using me for such a time as this.  From the young family holding the only remaining survivor of a relative’s household to an elderly gentleman too grief-stricken to even remember what it was like when the tornado tore open his roof and flattened the  outbuildings stuffed full of memories from multiple generations, there were continually people in front of me that needed a listening ear to allow them to tell their stories and a gentle response of love and hope.

While I don’t know the motivations behind the various questions of why we were there and not somewhere else, I do know that God used those questions to help me focus on exactly why I was where I was — it was to love and serve people in the midst of their need.  I have not yet figured out how to be in multiple places at once so for now I serve in faith in the places where God opens the doors and I trust that He has others doing the same thing in the other communities that need help.  The stories from my time in Bowling Green are simply a continual thread of how God was using so much of the work He has been doing in me during my lifetime in order to prepare me for such a time as this.

But the story doesn’t end there.  The more pertinent application for you, the reader, is what has God been doing in you throughout your lifetime to prepare you for such a time as this wherever you are?  As a child of God you are called by Him to do the works of service He created in advance for you to do.  Whether those works of service are 500, 1000, or 5000 miles away or they exist in your community, next door, or even in your own home, please know that God is preparing you for such a time as this!

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart: No Place To Hide! (12/31/21)

Stories of the Heart: No Place To Hide! (12/31/21)

IMG_3860

~

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 one cleanup experience:

No Place To Hide

On my phone is a photo of a child’s photo that serves as a reminder to me about praying for the children who experienced the chaos of disaster during the Christmas season.  The subject of the photo is a happy-looking young girl that would appear to not have a care in the world.  The photo itself, and its discovery, tell a different story.

The photo is a bit water-stained and blurred around the edges and was found in a home where the residents had come back to claim everything they wanted and we were told to clean out everything else as they were not coming back again — the trauma of seeing the neighborhood was just too much.  The house, like most of those neighboring it, was missing most of its roof and had assorted debris all over the place both inside and out.  As we carried rain-soaked furniture to the curb, I realized that most of the furniture were missing the cushions.  As we cleaned further, we discovered two closets that had couch cushions, blankets, pillows, and comforters spilling out from the open doors — the apparent places of refuge as the tornado took its toll on the structure.  As I cleaned out the closet in the room I was working in, I found a blood-stained pillow among all of the other padding.  Fortunately I knew that this was not one of the homes that had experienced a fatality, but my heart went out to this family that I had never met that had evidently experienced an injury during the storm.  They had done their best but found there was no place to fully hide.

As I continued to clean up debris and belongings, I prayed for those in this particular home who had been injured.  I prayed for those in the neighborhood who would have physical and/or emotional wounds from their experiences.  As I worked and prayed, I came across this young girl’s photo and some of the toys and belongings left behind in various rooms.  I prayed for this girl’s family and the siblings she likely had based on the different sizes of clothing in the different closets.  I prayed for those who seek refuge from the storms of life and feel they have no place to hide.  This was an encounter that touched me deeply even though it was different than many of the other encounters I experienced.  In this instance, I never met the individuals who had hid out in these closets during the storm.  I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to their story or to pray with them about the comfort that is available through having peace with God.  Yet through the cleanup process and my prayer time, their story had no place to hide as I prayed for them in the very closets they hid in and under the open sky where their roof used to be.

And in a big way, this photo I have of one young girl serves as both a reminder, and as a representative, of the need to continually pray for the comfort and healing of many children who need to know God is a refuge where they can hide and a very present help in time of need.

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart: The Sky Is Falling! (12/29/21)

Stories of the Heart: The Sky Is Falling! (12/29/21)

~

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.

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart: Disaster Response PPE! (12/28/21)

Stories of the Heart: Disaster Response PPE! (12/28/21)

Disaster PPE

~

As one who has responded to several disasters, I often get asked by people how they can help when disaster strikes. To answer that, I have repurposed an acronym that we often associate with safety — PPE.
  ~
PRAY!
First, and foremost, Pray! Prayer isn’t simply something that we ought to do. Together with God’s Word and His Spirit, prayer ought to direct everything we do. When disaster strikes near or far, talk to God and seek His perspective and direction for how to respond.  It is in prayer that we begin to gain God’s heart of compassion for the hurting and broken people of this world.  Prayer leads us to seek God’s will to be done rather than us pushing our agenda.  Prayer is talking, it is asking, it is listening, and it is responding.  Prayer is conversation with God and when we pray about disaster situations, we find ourselves better able to understand how God would have us respond.
  ~
PREPARE!
Secondly, our prayer time ought to lead us to Prepare. Find out what the actual needs are in disaster areas in general and in the current disaster specifically.  It does very little good, and at times is very counterproductive, to show up in a disaster area with things that no one needs or with things that are needed but are already over-supplied.  In the current disaster response in Kentucky, many relief distribution centers are turning away donations of goods and clothing because the supply is simply outpacing the need.  Do an inventory of what God has put into your life for you to share.  Connect with a reputable organization or local church in the disaster area to see how your inventory of skills and abilities match up with what is needed.  Prepare your heart and mind to stay focused on the needs of others and learn how you can help even if it requires you to step well outside of your comfort zone.
  ~
EQUIP!
Thirdly, our prayer and preparation should lead us to a time when we will Equip those who can help. The equipping can involve giving of money, of goods, and/or our time. Each of these donations should always be given in light of what is actually needed rather than based on what we want.  Learn to give generously and freely of your time and possessions in ways that glorify God rather than yourself.  God has designed us to work together and serve together in a way that when we join in partnership with others, we find that He is able to accomplish much more through us than ever could have been done by the individual efforts alone.  When you pray and prepare, I believe that God will not only equip you to serve, but that He will use you to equip others who may be able to serve in ways that are not your calling, or that you simply can’t do.
When it comes to equipping those who help, whether with your finances or your time and abilities, I highly recommend partnering with International Disaster Emergency Service (IDES).

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart: Rule #39 – There Is No Such Thing As a Coincidence! (12/24/21)

Stories of the Heart: Rule #39 – There Is No Such Thing As a Coincidence! (12/24/21)

~

I arrived home late last night but the computer I do live broadcasts from is still not working so I will continue with the “Jesus In the Midst of Disaster” stories.  If you’re a NCIS fan, you may recognize the title of this post as one of Gibb’s rules.  If you’re a Christian, you should recognize the title as one of God’s rules.

There Is No Such Thing As a Coincidence

Part of the work of Impact Prayer Ministry is a section I call Wee Care Relief Ministry.  Through this, I collect diapers and funds for diapers and take them to disaster areas to be given to people in need.  Fortunately, I had restocked my supply following Hurricane Ida a few months ago and had a pickup truck load of diapers to take with me to Kentucky.  Sometimes when I volunteer with IDES for disaster response, the church they partner with is distributing supplies to people in need and other times they see others taking care of that need and focus primarily on the cleanup and recovery from the property damage.  On this trip, our focus was on tree and debris cleanup initially and the church had given me names of a few places I could take the diapers to. 

With so much damage and destruction needing my attention, the diapers stayed in my truck parked at the church for a full seven days while I was waiting for a time I could break away from the cleanup work to take them to a distribution site.  Finally, after seven days of being parked, some logistical issues required that I use my truck to get to the homes where we were working and to drive around the area scouting out further needs that we could help with.  As I’m doing so, I drive past a church with a sign out front stating they are doing a drive-thru distribution of supplies that day to people in need due to the tornado.  I soon found a safe place to turn around and got in the line waiting to talk to someone.  The first person greeting people in their vehicles was friendly when I pulled up to him, and he asked if I needed supplies.  My response was, “Actually, no, I have diapers.”  I think he heard me to say I needed diapers because he told me they were out of diapers.  When I clarified that I had a pickup load of diapers they could have if needed, he immediately called out to the volunteer ahead of him.  This volunteer confirmed what I had and then headed toward the front of the line telling the volunteers there to stop the car that was leaving — it was a family needing diapers.  I was quickly directed around the line so I could unload the diapers and baby wipes I had with me.  We first found the size needed by the person who had almost left empty-handed, then unloaded the rest of the truck.  I watched as each car in line while I was there pulled up and I saw diapers being handed to every one of them.  Wow!  What a coincidence that I drove by on the day they were distributing supplies, saw the sign, and arrived just at the time when what I had was what they needed!  A coincidence?  Absolutely not!  God kept those diapers in my truck for a time and place of His choosing so that they could bless both people in need and those helping meet that need.

And the story doesn’t end there.  Once the truck was unloaded and I was ready to leave, I found myself still in the line of cars driving through and was stopped behind one of them at another area of the church lot where they were giving out toys for Christmas.  That volunteer came and asked the number and ages of people in my family.  I explained why I was there and that I wasn’t in line to pick up toys so he went to help the next guest behind me.  As I continued to wait in line so I could get through and go on my way, a lady came out of the area where they were sorting toys and asked if she could pray with me.  She said there was a sense of God’s power and presence surrounding the truck and felt she should come and pray in that place.  We had a great time praying for those in need and for each other.  As we finished praying, the car in front of me was receiving what they needed and began to move so I could also go on my way and return to finding even more people in need who needed help.  Jesus was present in the midst of details that only He could orchestrate in just the right way at just the right time.

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart: Memories In the Rubble! (12/23/21)

Stories of the Heart: Memories In the Rubble! (12/23/21)

~

As expected, internet connection has not allowed the live video broadcasts while I am in Kentucky helping with disaster relief and cleanup and now my laptop computer has died so even posting stories is a bit more difficult.  Nonetheless, I will try posting some “Jesus in the midst of disaster” stories as I get the opportunity.

Here is one from this week:

Memories In the Rubble

As I was out looking for people who needed help, I was given an address to check out and was told the homeowner would meet me there as the house was currently not livable. I arrived in an area that appeared to have been a nice old neighborhood with tree lined streets and shade filled back yards prior to the tornado coming through. Now it was still a tree lined street, only the trees were in piles along both sides of the roadway. The primary work she needed help with at this time was the removal of a pile of debris from the backyard . . . a pile which had once been a storage shed until a large tree landed on it.

One of the first things noticeable to me was the end of an old snow sled sticking out of the rubble. I gently uncovered it and, to the thrill of the homeowner, found it to be completely undamaged. I commented on how it looked just like the steel runnered wooden sled I grew up with years ago. It ended up that her daughter is my age and the sled had been purchased when the daughter was a child. As the IDES volunteers arrived to help clean up the mess, we gently went through the debris and found a variety of items which had survived. As I walked with this sweet 80 year old lady around the end of her home, I noticed a teddy bear on top of a small pile of debris. We talked a little about the bear, who had been living in her attic for years until the tornado lifted the corner of her roof and sucked a few belongings out with a portion of the end of her home. What a joy to spend time sharing together about the hope we have in Jesus through the midst of any chaos of life.

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart:  Representing Jesus While Waiting On FEMA! (12/20/21)

Stories of the Heart: Representing Jesus While Waiting On FEMA! (12/20/21)

~

As expected, internet connection has not allowed the live video broadcasts while I am in Kentucky helping with disaster relief and cleanup and now my laptop computer has died so even posting stories is a bit more difficult.  Nonetheless, I will try posting some “Jesus in the midst of disaster” stories as I get the opportunity.

Here is one from last week:

Representing Jesus While Waiting On FEMA

As I walked from the truck to where we were picking up debris, I noticed a person looking through one of the large piles of debris along the road.  As I introduced myself, I asked if this had been their home.  It had been and she was just waiting for a person from FEMA that was to meet her there.  I asked about her story from the night of the tornado and since, then listened as she spoke of gratitude for her protection but sorrow for the loss which surrounded her.  We talked about the mess of this world and the love of God that was greater than any of the messes we experience or create.  We prayed together and prayed specifically that God would grant her favor in the eyes of the FEMA person she would soon be meeting with.  We prayed through tears, with her destroyed house in the background, that God would lead her to housing that was affordable and suitable for her and her family.  As I prayed God’s blessings to be upon her soon to happen meeting, the FEMA representative walked up and waited for our prayer time to finish before introducing herself and beginning the process she was there for.  I went on my way knowing the Jesus had been present as we waited on FEMA.

In prayer,
Tom

Stories of the Heart:  Jesus and Spoiled Food! (12/19/21)

Stories of the Heart: Jesus and Spoiled Food! (12/19/21)

~

As expected, internet connection has not allowed the live video broadcasts while I am in Kentucky helping with disaster relief and cleanup and I’ve not been able to upload recorded video at this time.  It is looking like I will be here through Christmas Eve, so I will try posting some “Jesus in the midst of disaster” stories as I get the opportunity.

Here is one from this past week:

Spoiled Food and Jesus

Walking through one of the hardest hit areas of Bowling Green, I encountered many people who weren’t sure what they needed but definitely needed someone to listen to their story.  The typical initial response is often that they don’t need anything.  After receiving that response at one home, I asked about their experience and after listening to their story I again asked if there was anything at all we could help with.  With a hint of embarrassment, I learned they had been trying to clean out the refrigerator that had been without power for 6 days and the process was overwhelming to them.  The relief that was expressed when I said we could do that was great.  After hauling out the spoiled food, the offer was again made to provide additional help and I soon found that the spoiled food encounter had opened up the opportunity to not only do more for this family, but to share with them the good news of why we were doing it – that God’s love for them is great and our compassion toward them was because of God’s great love for us.  When our work was done, we prayed for the family and went on our way knowing that seeds had been planted and Jesus had been present in the disposal of spoiled food.

In prayer,
Tom