Loud Faith in Irma’s Wake
“Florida Staggers Towards Long Recovery.” That was among the headlines describing the impact Hurricane Irma had on the Sunshine State. Much the same thing has been said about areas afflicted by Hurricane Harvey. Though our national attention has been riveted on South Texas and Florida these past few weeks, soon the television crews will pack up and leave and will take our attention with them. So what will be left—or should we say, who will be left? Only those who are committed to the long, difficult, and mostly anonymous work of helping and rebuilding. In other words, people of faith. And not just a few. The headline of a recent story in USA Today reads “Faith groups provide the bulk of disaster recovery, in coordination with FEMA.” The paper’s Washington correspondent, Paul Singer, begins by telling readers something they may not know: “If you donate bottles of water, diapers, clothing or any other materials to hurricane victims in Texas or Florida, your donation will likely pass through the hands of the Seventh Day Adventists before it gets to a storm victim.” Who knew? And Singer continues, “the Adventists, over several decades, have established a unique expertise in disaster ‘warehousing,’ collecting, logging, organizing and distributing relief supplies, in cooperation with government disaster response agencies.” As Singer tells readers, “In a disaster, churches don’t just hold bake sales to raise money or collect clothes to send to victims; faith-based organizations are integral partners in state and federal disaster relief efforts. They have specific roles and a sophisticated communication and coordination network to make sure their efforts don’t overlap or get in each other’s way.” Singer went on to mention The Convoy of Hope and Samaritan’s Purse, while clarifying that these groups don’t “merely” supplement government relief efforts. In many instances, they are the government response. Not in the sense that their actions are directed by government but, instead, that government recognizes their integral role and seeks to facilitate their actions. Federal agencies such as FEMA and their state counterparts rely on these groups. So much so that, as Singer tell us, FEMA ran interference for Samaritan’s Purse with other agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And there’s a lot more where that came from. According to the CEO of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an umbrella group, “About 80% of all recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based.” Let the implications of that number sink in. And yet, as I have told you several times, an increasing percentage of Americans—nearly half—think “that the government could replace religious organizations and the charitable services they offer with no problems and nothing lost.” To see just how wrong this is, we only need to look at South Texas and Florida. But just as important as the efforts offered by people of faith is the reason why they do what they do. The answer of course is, if I may paraphrase Senator Diane Feinstein’s anti-religious questioning of a judicial nominee last week, that the “dogma lives loudly in them.” They believe deeply in God, and that people are made in His image. That God has been very kind and generous to them, and asks of His people, if I might use the summary of all Christian dogma offered by Jesus Christ Himself, that they love God with all they have and love their neighbors as themselves. If such dogma were at the volume that Feinstein and others found more acceptable, i.e., only hearable in the privacy of our own thoughts and houses of worship, well, Florida’s road to recovery would be a lot longer. But thank God that His people are everywhere, and for their deeply held dogmas that drive them to offer their time, their money, their talent and their treasure to those in need around them.