Growing up and living in the Midwest I’m quite familiar with the destructive force and random targets that come with tornadoes.
One of the most memorable experiences I have is at my first job out of college at a small newspaper in western Minnesota. A twister leveled most of a town of about 500 people. Driving through the area I recall seeing some homes obliterated with beams scattered as if a box of matchsticks had been accidentally spilled. Meanwhile, less than a quarter-mile down the road, a barn stood with, at worst, a few shingles missing.
While I’ve been blessed never to have to live through that experience myself, it is impossible not to feel sympathy and compassion for the victims of storms that tore across the South last weekend.
The town which drew the brunt of the force was Yazoo City, Mississippi. Although the town is nowhere near the Gulf Coast, it is a region which has seen more than its fair share of disaster recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Mark Jones, Salvation Army public relations director for the state, described the area of the city most affected by the tornado as hilly neighborhood bordering a cliff which peers down toward the expanse of the Mississippi Delta.
Giving to the Salvation Army or other credible relief organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse in response to disasters is certainly warranted. The outpouring of support which came in the wake of the Haiti earthquake is a testament to that concept.
How organizations use such support serves as valuable lessons for better responding to future disasters. Such is certainly the case for Mississippi, which has learned vital and difficult lessons in the aftermath of Katrina’s rage.
“The Salvation Army learned multiple lessons from Katrina,” Jones said. “The first was communication. The expectation for service form The Salvation Army in relief and recovery is now higher. In turn we had to better communicate our service delivery points to the community. We have invested in a communications trailer to ensure this practice.
“The second was a quicker response. With the expectation of service comes a need for immediate response from The Army. No longer can we wait to assess need. The expectation is that we respond in connection to need.
“The third is training. The Salvation Army has added equipment and that now requires better training for personnel and volunteers for quicker response. Classes include basic food service and serve safe to financial management and public information.”
Those valuable lessons undergird the organization’s tradition of Christian service.
“Disaster response is a frontline ministry,” Jones said. “It opens doors for the Gospel to be communicated effectively to a skeptical public. I think it was Martin Luther who said, ‘Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.’
“The church must not forget that a ministry of presence is highly effective in winning people to Christ. Matthew says, ‘Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16)
Our work in Disaster Services is an act of service to the community and an act of worship to God.”
In addition to prayers, Jones suggested checking the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Web site (http://www.msema.org/) for updates on how to help volunteer if you’re close enough to do so. Amid the devastation, as is so often the case, there are stories of survival and grace:
- A mother who died lying on top of a mattress, saving the lives of her three young sons underneath.
- Houston Astros hard-throwing pitcher Roy Oswalt helping with cleanup efforts in his hometown of Weir, Miss., and his own family’s survival.
- A church with an interesting tale of what was left standing amid its ruins.