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Editorial

Disasters may overwhelm, but we need to keep attentive and to act

Wow! Wow! Wow!

The onslaught of multiple hurricanes, multiple earthquakes, slaughter of Rohingya, monsoon flooding killing thousands in South Asia, massive U.S. wild fires, shootings at the Freeman school and a Tennessee church, terrorism on the London metro, nonviolent protest during the national anthem, the PBS reminder of the Vietnam war and talk of redistributing more wealth to the most wealthy via tax code changes...

Will all that silence and disempower us?

Amid these mind-numbing traumas, two world leaders engage in verbal warfare, threatening everyone with apocalyptic devastation, as if nature hasn’t done that in the Caribbean, Mexico, South Asia, Texas and Florida.  We don’t need more trauma.

Hurricane Harvey destruction and response disappeared as Irma cut a swath through the Caribbean and Florida, followed by Hurricane Maria.

In Puerto Rico, power is out. Generators are coming.  Roads are blocked.  Chain saws are buzzing.  Houses are demolished.  Shelters are open.  Neighbors who never spoke are sharing what they have. One is using a car battery to charge cell phones so people can call family. Trucks are filled with supplies, but need drivers.

We hear of scores killed by hurricanes, hundreds by earthquakes and have barely registered the 1,200 lost in floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh after the worst monsoon floods in years.

In Mexico, rescue workers who dug through collapsed buildings were soon joined by Japanese rescuers, strangers from half a world away.

FEMA’s declaring wildfire damage in northwestern Montana a disaster will mean help to restore destroyed homes, businesses, bridges, power and phone lines, cell towers, a gas pipeline and watersheds.

Those interconnected through the network of faith communities know funds they give are directed to people in need, especially after the immediate response of the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) ends.

Those agencies’ first response is water, blankets, hygiene, temporary housing, search and rescue, meals, health services and emotional support.  Military ships and planes are delivering supplies. 

Hundreds of thousands of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals were destroyed in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Dominica, Cuba. Most of Barbuda’s 1,800 people were evacuated to neighboring Antiqua.

Still, tens of thousands of people struggle to meet basic needs in the Caribbean since images of the cycling storms and video of the winds lashing and rains pummeling are off our screens. Now we see heaps of unimaginable damage.  We sense the trauma.

Beyond prayers, many in faith communities seek ways to respond.  Most congregations have taken offerings, the seeds for long-term recovery.  Will the deflection of news from one political storm to another slow response?

We must keep a focus on our responsibility to respond for the long term, to donate and eventually to go to help rebuild from the devastation.

The various faith relief agencies respond immediately with water, food, cleanup supplies and hygiene supplies.  Then they assess needs of survivors and offer direct assistance, home repair, home rebuilding, health care and more.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed about what to do and how to respond in the “eye” of the disasters and immediate devastation.  It’s helpful to remember that there are infrastructures for disaster response even when local infrastructures have been devastated.

What’s important is to find avenues for action, ways to give funds and use talents to meet ongoing needs.

There’s much to do once media attention dissipates.  We must keep up communication through the faith and NGO agencies.

If we’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to give in to inaction and feel hopeless.  That’s where our faith communities are also vital in reminding us of our call to act and care as expressions of God’s love.

Our faith communities also remind us to do what we do best.  Amid disasters we need to carry on the struggle for justice and peace, to challenge racism, to end violence, to welcome strangers, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless and more.

So some other good news might help:

• Africans are planting a 10-mile-wide green wall of acacia, drought-resistant trees across 5,000 miles of Africa to halt desertification so people can have shade, plant gardens and conserve water.

• Earth Ministry has announced that the challenges to the proposed coal export terminal in Longview to protect the air, water and communities along the rail line have paid off. The Department of Ecology (DOE) has denied the water quality permit, so the largest coal export terminal in North America cannot be built.

So it’s up to each of us to find our niche and keep up the faithful challenges, while we also respond to the dire emergencies that have recently devastated so many.

Mary Stamp - Editor





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