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From Jim on the Field: Ministry to Hurricane Ike Victims

Greetings, Leszek et al –

I am at the Sterling Municipal Library where they are graciously letting me use one of their computers. People down here are very appreciative of the Red Cross and the help many people from a number of organizations are bringing here. Red Cross has a policy of seven days on, then one off, so today is my day off. It is nice to look forward to heading home a week from today.

Yesterday I went out, along with a Psychologist (chaplains work under Mental Health) into some of the hardest hit areas in the bays. While the worst and most dramatic destruction was down on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula, what we saw is the equivalent in many ways, as people’s homes lost all possessions, as the surge brought water through the area up to a five-foot level, effectively destroying everything in the homes and making it necessary to gut the home and rebuild completely from within, assuming it was not rendered impossible by the foundation being affected. The winds, of course, were 100 mph+. Add to that the fact that most homes are too low and may not be approved for receiving FEMA funds unless they are raised, and you see what dire straits these folks are in. Yards are filled with their possessions. Many places still do not have power but even if they do, homes in such areas are not habitable. The power helps for bringing in a small refrigerator and for tools used in clean-up; those who can afford it park trailers in their driveways to live in while they are trying to work at clean-up. The hardest part, of course, in terms of what they have lost, is the things that cannot be replaced, such as pictures. Most people are of modest means and many have lived in their respective area for generations.

The Red Cross ERV’s (Emergency Recovery Vehicles, I think…) go out each day to various sites and distribute hot meals, which are so appreciated by people. The meals are prepared at Community Kitchens around the area, many of which are staffed by the Southern Baptists. Our kitchen is staffed by the North Carolina Southern Baptists; that of the place I went to in League City, about 40 miles away, by the Texas Baptists; etc. Our staff shelter is in a Southern Baptist Church, about a half-mile from the kitchen (the kitchen is all outside, in tents, and is a mind-boggling operation in itself) as is the League City staff shelter. Many of the client shelters for the persons who are homeless and do not have relatives or friends to stay with, are also in Baptist churches.

Our work in Mental Health is especially in helping Red Cross and other staff, who are working under a great deal of stress; and in going out into the stricken areas, as I described doing yesterday, cruising the streets and seeing whether people are visible and if so, offering them water or GatorAde and, in cases where there are children, small stuffed animals that have been donated. We converse with people for a while and listen to their stories, give them what support we can and move on. Even brief conversations can have a great deal of meaning for folks. And the resilience of these people, most of whom do not have a lot of resources, is inspiring. More than one person has told me of personal losses, e.g., a spouse dying in last year or two, and that being much harder than all the material loss, even though the latter is in many cases literally everything they have. One big payoff, of course, among many, is seeing a child’s face light up as they clutch the Mickey Mouse or Teddy Bear we give them. These folks have incredible challenges ahead, so pray for them. This situation is not receiving anything like the attention Katrina got, but for those affected – a lot of people – the effect is much the same. People’s appreciation for the Red Cross is very real and palpable, and there is no other organization that can do what they do.

Anyway, that is it for now. I rarely get a shot at a computer, so I tried to give a feel for what I am doing. I much appreciate people’s support and encouragement and of course prayers. I cannot pretend it is not challenging (sleeping in a room with a large number of men lets you realize the limits of ear-plugs!) but I am grateful to be here and available to people, and feel it is a natural and appropriate extension of my ministry as a chaplain and of the Resurrection Health Care Mission.

Blessings to all,

Jim

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