A Fear of Whales

oklahoma-tornadoI was happy to become one of the first responders to the disaster in Oklahoma City. I was one of the late responders to Katrina, unable to find time to get down there until years after the event, and I’ve often lamented the opportunity missed. When the tornados hit Moore though, it was much closer to me, and I had no trouble taking a week off and heading down within a couple of days.

I had a friend who arrived even before I did, and I gave him a call to ask what was needed, “What can I bring? Should I bring my own tools? Do you need water?” and what he said surprised me:

Whatever you do, don’t bring water, don’t bring clothes, we stopped accepting clothes at all earlier this morning. Food is helpful, if it’s non perishable, but people bring canned food, nobody has a can opener.

That really hit me — the disconnect of it all. We so lack the capacity to understand what it is like to have your house demolished in the blink of an eye that we do things (and by we I mean me) that make no sense!
We run around collecting water bottles, and we fail to realize that this isn’t a hurricane, the plumbing still works. When I went down to Moore, every street corner was equipped with a mountain of donated bottled water from Dasani or Aquafina.

We donate clothes and we fail to realize that it takes a person a long time before they die of a lack of old second hand clothes. If you don’t want them, the chances are good that they don’t either.

And I really think that the workers down there appreciate the thought. They appreciate that we’re trying, but often we as donors and servants feel entitled and say, “Look I brought you this clothing aren’t you happy?” and the victims will say, “Thank you,” but they want to say, “Look, I actually didn’t lose many of my clothes. They fell off the rack in a pile of rubble; they need to be washed, but I still have them; I need a tarp; I need something to make sure that everything doesn’t get soaked when it rains tonight and… that’s probably what I’m going to use these old jackets for.”

It’s not just disasters either. Our treatment of homeless people, mourning people, the handicapped, and every kind of minority so often fails so completely to understand their situation that our help borders on hurt. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try:

I brought some tarps to OKC. I brought a bunch of church key can openers, as many as I could. By now the situation has changed, different things are needed, and I’m bringing a team of teenagers down this week to help clean up.

Pray for my humility in service.

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