To sit and listen to hard-working people who have just lost their homes and sometimes livelihoods to disaster is indeed humbling. As they come to ask us for help, it helps us realize that, regardless of how faithful or hard working we might be, in the world we “will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
As U.S. Country Representative for International Orthodox Christian Charities, a Church World Service partner, I often travel to disaster-affected communities and meet survivors.
For example, during a visit last September to recently flood-ravaged Loveland, Colo., I met Matt. He said he lived west of Loveland next to the Big Thompson River and told me his story.
“It was about 7:30 a.m. Luckily we had sent our two kids to their grandparents in town the day before. I knew that living near the Big Thompson River exposed my family to the danger of flooding, but I didn’t expect my driveway opposite the river to become a new creek bed threatening to block our escape on both sides.
“The river was quickly rising behind the house and I knew we had to get out. We waded across our driveway, which was becoming a rapidly rising creek, but I thought that I should try and save some of our belongings so I left my wife by the road and waded back to the house.”
Matt’s wife used her cell phone to video Matt’s efforts to save what he could. Matt had the cell phone with him, pulled it out of his pocket and turned it toward me so I could see the video as he continued to narrate the scene.
“Even though the water was only about a foot deep on my first trip back to the house, the current was quickly becoming too strong. I only could make one more trip before it became too dangerous to wade across and we watched the waters engulf our house.”
In spite of losing his home, Matt said he considered himself lucky. He, his wife, two children and three dogs got out with their lives – and he still has his job as a roofer. He concluded his story by saying: “Our driveway is now an eight-foot ditch that leads to the river, but I thank God that we are okay and have the chance to start again.”
The IOCC provides hands-on assistance along with emotional and spiritual care for people like Matt through deploying IOCC Frontliners to disaster sites. Last year in Colorado and in tornado-battered Oklahoma, CWS Emergency Cleanup Buckets, Blankets and Hygiene Kits were part of the practical assistance we offered Matt and many other disaster survivors.
This year, we are starting a second project called IOCC Homefront, starting in the IOCC Frontliners’ 100 home parishes. Our goal is eventually to reach all 1,600 U.S. Orthodox parishes.
IOCC Homefront will help our parishes prepare for and respond to disasters in their communities. The project’s “textbook” is Help and Hope: Disaster Preparedness and Response Tools for Congregations, just published by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in cooperation with Church World Service.
The IOCC will give technical assistance to parishes as they complete the various exercises in Help and Hope, giving them important tools to put the Gospel into practice in a compassionate and effective manner during trying times. For in bringing God’s comfort and care to those whose lives have been torn apart by disaster, we flesh out the rest of our Lord’s statement in John 16: “…but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”
Daniel Christopulos of Minneapolis, Minn., is U.S. Country Representative for International Orthodox Christian Charities.