FEMA, Wal-Mart, Ike, and the Church

I’m still processing a lot about this past week. Part of that” processing” is the role of the church and the Christian in the midst of disaster. I believe as a nation we’ve become too dependent upon government and they just don’t do as good of a job as the church can do. But here’s the deal, I think the church has abdicated its role to government and we need to take it back! The church has role in disaster that it’s not fulfilling.

Here’s an example – FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Agency). Ever since Katrina, it seems as though FEMA is everyone’s answer to disaster. That is neither possible nor true. The federal government isn’t everyone’s answer to disaster. FEMA is slow to respond; they’re not a part of the community. They’re a cultural ignorance that exists when outside entities step in from the outside. Many of those making arrangements have neither lived through nor experienced a disaster on personal level – you need to have experienced it before you can lead people through it. Experience is a valuable teacher. Due to the sheer number of requests, this organization is unable to adequately respond. Just try calling the number and you’ll be hung up on by an automated attendant.

Here’s an illustration to the example. Our Family Activities Building serves as an American Red Cross Shelter. We were informed we’d have a generator made available to us by Sunday. We waited, worked, and waited some more. The generator was never delivered. We were told the generator couldn’t be found – they didn’t know where it was – it had disappeared. How do you lose a generator? It wasn’t until several days later by the intervention of local, state and federally elected officials that a generator was delivered. Maybe it would be incumbent on us to buy our own generator and stock our own fuel as a church. That’s not an unreasonable request or expectation. If that were the case, we would have had lights and air just hours after the storm passed. It’s just an idea. Do you know who’s been in town feeding people? The North Carolina Baptists have been in town and served nearly 68,000 meals yesterday – it is their prepared food that’s being served out of Red Cross trucks around town. Here’s an example of the church being the church during a disaster. Thank you North Carolina Baptists.

Here’s just one final thought on this post. We need to think through the vehicles by which we dispense aid. I was in a conversation Monday afternoon where a proposed solution was to provide Wal-Mart gift cards to disaster area residents. While this is a generous proposal, it’s not very practical. First, why should Wal-Mart get all the business? Secondly, you need electricity before you can process a Wal-Mart card. Third, you need a Wal-Mart close by. The absence of available fuel and/or a Wal-Mart store makes that proposed solution irrelevant. Kind of like handing out life rafts in the desert. Even though it’s more difficult to account for, I suggested providing cash for people ravaged by Ike’s path. This way they can make purchases from local vendors and their shopping isn’t limited to the availability of electricity. It’s called practical thinking.

How can the church make a difference in disaster?