'Stamping out disasters not our call'

3/1/2009


By Susan Engle
Intentional Discipleship Action Team leader and Paducah District Lay Resource Leader

Disaster Relief is a different game when it’s your own backyard.
 
Living in the midst of the ice storm in Western Kentucky was entirely different from reading about Katrina and then going to help with the cleanup effort.
 
Living in the midst, trying to do your job and manage your own personal disaster is hard work. 
 
Being on the front lines makes you both a participant in the relief effort and a refugee in need of relief. It gives you a bird’s eye view and perhaps a few new thoughts on what it is we are doing as a church when we send teams out to help.
 
In October of 2008, the Memphis Conference Reporter ran an article on disaster burnout and there certainly has been some of that. I feel some of it myself.
 
In the days and weeks that followed the ice storm, when the phone kept ringing with more and more people calling for assistance and it seemed there were so few people to do the work, I certainly felt that we would drown before we could ever get enough help and resources to answer the need.  
 
I began to feel that my focus in ministry had become tree removal and driveway clearing.
 
I quickly came to realize that while this is a good thing to do, there will never be an end to relief response. There will always be something happening somewhere to which we need to respond. 
 
No wonder we are burned out on relief, stamping out disasters is not our call. Cleaning it up is only our call because we are supposed to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We respond to disasters not because we are the experts, though by now we are getting pretty good at it, but because we are called to minister to the world we live in. 
 
I recently watched work crews from Benton First, Selmer First, Medina UMC, and Henderson First, go out in freezing temperatures, pouring rain and then a snow storm with flakes big enough to ride, to clean debris from people’s lawns and homes.  
 
The teams were told they were being given a chance to share God’s love with others without saying a word, and they took that to heart. That’s discipleship! Sure they cut trees, but what they also did was tell people they cared enough to inconvenience themselves to do so.   
 
I can’t help wondering if we would be less burnt out if we remembered we were not in the business of restoring people’s worlds to normal, but transforming their world by helping them encounter the risen Christ.
 Part of our discipleship plans need to include teaching folks why it is we are doing what it is we do. Intentional Discipleship is about knowing what we believe, Who we are called to follow, why we are called to serve. It is also about being intentional about teaching others.   
 
As we respond to the needs of the world around us, let us do so as the Body of Christ, equipped and called to share the Good News.
 
There are many hard-charging folks who are always the first to respond to need. If asked, they will often say they just like cutting trees or driving tractors or running some of the heavy equipment. While that is probably true, it’s not the only truth. They witness with their lives, they open their hands and hearts and give away their time and resources to help others. They are faithful to the call. 
 
Let’s give thanks for them, and ask God to raise up many more like them, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. •