My time in disaster relief: day four...
When dealing with disasters, even subtle things like our choice of words are important. For example, we always want to refer to those people who we are serving in positive terms. You'll often see the word survivor used. Today I got to meet a group of true survivors.
I went to Gadsden, South Carolina.
In this small town 14 roads are closed due to failing infrastructure and washed out roads. So you can imagine how difficult it can be to navigate when you are trying to get to a central location (in this case an elementary school) and almost every turn was blocked or closed. I felt like I was inside a maze, just hoping the next turn could lead me to the canteen. Just to give you an idea of what this town has been through, here is one of their main roads.
When I pulled into the elementary school there (we have our canteen parked in the parking lot) I noticed that there a lot more cars parked around the canteen then any location I have been to thus far. People are car pooling and coming in groups, pretty soon the line started to form and I started striking up conversations. Here is what I heard today:
"I don't have water. I haven't had it in a week. I have a well, the rain and the floodwater knocked out my water pump. Every chance I get I come over here to the canteen. It's the only place I can get a cold drink."
"I can't get to my house. I haven't been home in a week. The food I get here are my only meals. I didn't take much with me when I had to leave so The Salvation Army is all that I have for food right now. After this, I'm going again to see if I can get home. I just want to be home."
"They are driving me crazy. School has been out a week. But you know what, I'm blessed to be here with my family. There were a lot of things that the flood destroyed but my family is safe. We didn't lose much, nothing that isn't replaceable. My wife and I are taking turns on who is staying home from work until their school opens back up. Since we both can't work at the same time money is really tight right now. We come here to get food because I just can't afford a grocery bill. When I came here the first day, I didn't know what to expect. I opened my box and there was steak! It was really really good."
"My husband dug trenches all around our house before the rain started. The rain didn't stop and the trenches were filling up, I walked out on my porch and the water was touching my toes. We did everything we could to prepare for this storm. There was nothing else I could do so I just prayed with my toes in the water right there on the porch. I prayed over my house, I prayed for protection for my family and I prayed for the rain to stop. I walked back into the house and few hours later, I don't know happened but the water wasn't on my porch anymore and the trenches started to hold up again. I'm blessed. You know I don't just come here for the food, but for the people who are serving us. It's nice to have someone listen, and I'm too blessed not to share."
"Can I pray with you guys?"
"Is there anything in particular I can pray about for someone?"
"They are calling for rain tomorrow, please no more rain."
It's one thing when you hear about The Salvation Army providing food and "emotional and spiritual care" it's another to witness it. People are definitely still in need of food, water, and shelter. But, so many of them, just want to talk. They just want to pray.
They just want to know that someone cares. They just want to know that everything is going to be OK.
Along with all of the food and water that we bring on our canteens, The Salvation Army also brings hope.