Posts Tagged ‘Disaster Response’

The One Regret

I got to do some amazing and beautiful things in my four years of AmeriCorps. I had the opportunity to serve my community, to respond to disasters when they happened. I got to remove debris from peoples yards, helping to begin the process of rebuilding communities ripped apart by the fury of nature. I got to serve alongside survivors and listen to their stories. I got to lead a team of young adults as they discovered how to change lives through service. I was able to travel across the country serving, digging fireline, building trails, removing hazard trees, and felling invasive species.

I got the opportunity to do all of this, and so much more. And in those four years of service, I only have a single regret.

It wasn’t something that I did, but rather something I didn’t do.

Each year, the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) would make two trips up to Montana to serve alongside the USFS in and around the Beaverhead-Deerhead National Forest. It was a long three day drive as we made the journey out packed into several trucks loaded down with gear. It was on one of these long days driving across the stretch of interstate that I recently looked back upon and felt ashamed of something I didn’t do.

At the beginning of my second year with the St Louis ERT, which happened to be my fourth and last year serving with AmeriCorps, I found myself in one of the pick up trucks with four other teammates. One of them I knew after we served together the previous year and the other three were teammates that I had just met.

We were riding in Blue Hulk (yes, our trucks were named, along with our chainsaws and various other equipment) near the back of the procession of vehicles as we made our way through one of the Dakotas (I believe we were in South Dakota at the time) when we happened to pass a serious wreck. By the looks of it, a driver had crossed the median and oncoming lanes, went up the embankment underneath an overpass and wedged themselves underneath the bridge. Several other vehicles that were not traveling with our group had already pulled off to assist, but first responders had not arrived on the scene.

And there I was driving past it.

Even after two of my teammates asked if we should pull over, I didn’t stop.

And to this day, I regret that decision.

One of those teammates was an EMT. Two others were certified first responders. We had all taken first aid classes. We could have helped. But I didn’t. I kept on driving.

Several minutes later, we saw the ambulance speeding past in the opposite direction towards the wreckage. And that was the moment that I began to regret my decision.

After my time responding to the Joplin tornado three years earlier, I struggled with the thought that there was so much more I could have done. Due to policy, my team was pulled off that disaster response 13 days after we arrived. I struggled with knowing that people still needed our help. There was still something more that we could have done there. I was angry because instead of serving where the immediate need was, we found ourselves heading down to Houston, TX to help out at a youth camp.

At the time, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know how to express the frustration that consumed me. Yet, after several meetings with campus staff and teammates, I found myself at peace with it. While I was there, we had done everything we could to help. I had done my best, and there was nothing to be personally ashamed of.

And as I watched the ambulance fade into the mirror, and I saw the disappointment on the faces of my teammates, I knew that I could have done more. We could have done more. Made a difference.

It’s been over two years since those events on the interstate took place. And that moment stands out. Out of the four years that I served in AmeriCorps, that decision is the only one that I look back on and regret. Out of all my travels and adventures that make up my journey, that decision is still the only one I regret, because I didn’t do what my heart knew was the right thing to do.

Looking back on that moment seems like forever ago. How much has changed since then?

Why are you sharing these words? I hear you asking.

I’m sharing them because I have never put them into words. In the years of serving and writing, I never shared them, and I knew I had to. I have to live with that decision and it is a constant reminder that I never want to feel that way ever again.

I now work in realm of the first responder. I answer 911 phone calls every night that I work. I dispatch law enforcement, emergency medical, and fire personnel to calls day in and day out. And I never want to feel that shame of regret ever again. So I do the best that I can. I continue to serve to the best of my abilities.

And when I think about giving up, taking that easy path, I see that ambulance in the rear view window again. I take a breath. And I give it my all.

What is the Church

Before I start, I want to take a second and let everyone know that this is not going to be a extremely deep, philosophical collection of words to perfectly describe the followers of the Christian faith. This is not a statement about denominations, faith, or the structured religions that are usually associated with the word “church.” This is an observation and an answer to a question that I was asked several years ago and was not able to convey the answer. This is a post about the body of believers and the outward expression of love.

As many of you may already know (I’d be surprised if you didn’t realize this already), South Carolina flooded last week.  11 trillion gallons of water. That is a lot of water that the ground wasn’t able to absorb. It rushed into the lakes and spilled over the roadways, broke though dams and invaded homes. There are areas where homes are completely submerged.

This disaster has claimed the lives of several individuals and has threatened thousands. It has also proved that no disaster is ever the same.

I’m used to disasters. I’ve been around them for a little bit. I’ve seen tornadoes and hurricanes, wildfires and floods, and I’ve witnessed many responses to these disasters. I’ve seen the outpouring that became The Miracle of the Human Spirit in Joplin and the struggle of long-term recovery in Detroit where local volunteers were almost non-existent. I’ve been a part of the volunteer response and participated in serving individuals through assistance provided through FEMA. So, I didn’t really know what I was expecting to find when I made the choice to volunteer here in South Carolina.

After failing to find a volunteer opportunity through all the ‘official’ channels (the places where individuals who have experience in disaster response usually look first), I found the movement #FloodSCWithLove.

When I was in college, this mega church in South Carolina popped up down the road. It was filled with people and surrounded by controversy, conspiracy theories, and conversations about it usually turned into arguments about things I didn’t understand. People criticized the teachings and jumped to conclusions based on the fact that it was huge. The building is huge, the gatherings are huge, everything about it is huge. Everyone knew about NewSpring.

[EDIT: I previously stated that “I never set foot in NewSpring.” I realized that this was wrong. I attended service once during my time at Anderson University after being invited by a friend. Sorry ’bout that!]

For me, it just seemed too big. I wasn’t comfortable around it because it scarred me. It didn’t feel like home.

But, after graduating and spending five years away from the area, I knew that several of my college friends work for and with NewSpring. And while I was looking for volunteer opportunities after the flooding, I kept on seeing this hashtag; #FloodSCWithLove. So, I investigated farther and decided, this was a movement that I wanted to be part of.

So there I was, for the first time, walking into NewSpring.

You know that feeling you get when you are all stressed out and then suddenly you are able to breathe? That is how it felt when I entered into the building. It felt like home.

One of the first things that I noticed was that people actually cared about one another, they shared genuine smiles, and loved no matter what. They were (are) a family. Hundreds of volunteers from across the state, but they were united in a single mission: to love.

Yes, they were there to serve and to help rebuild their community, but their goal was to love. To love one another. To love those around them. To share the love with everyone they meet.

This is what Church is: a community of believers who love constantly. And this is what I saw as I worked alongside individuals who came together to love, a Church.

It didn’t matter that things didn’t go exactly as planned. It didn’t matter that some of us messed up once or twice. We loved one another and were able to love others. That was what it (this journey) is all about; Love. And in doing so, we grow closer to God.

So, maybe this was a little deeper than I expected it to be, but in the end, it’s all rather simple. A single word describes what the Church is. And I got to see it in action through those who gave their time and effort to volunteer and assist those in need.

For more information on how to assist those affected by the floods, please visit the #FloodSCWithLove website!