Yesterday, tornadoes wreaked havoc on areas of my state, my region, and my nation. The images of what is from what used to be are heart-wrenching. Some of them make me sick to my stomach. So I spent the night alternately thanking God for protecting me and my loved ones from mother nature's dangerous fury...and asking Him to pour out His blessings, His mercy, His presence on those affected. With that second prayer, there was also this: that God would show me, us, those of us left standing, a way to put flesh to His presence for these communities (which are our communities).
For those of you fortunate enough to not know disaster first-hand, let me lay out sort of how this all works. Disaster strikes, and your neighbors are the first to show up. (If you don't know your neighbors, get to know them. Really. They can be your strength in the moment.) Then, miraculously, the media arrives. Usually in droves. More in the way than helpful, they root through the rubble for that emotional touch (See this teddy bear? It belonged to a child that used to live here. *toss teddy bear carelessly back on top of rubble pile*) and shove a microphone in your face so that you can tell the rest of the world what it's like to be devastated. Sometime after that, search and rescue crews arrive and start sifting through what they can, pulling and herding people to safer territory. The Red Cross and other relief organizations move in, setting up emergency centers where you can sleep, shower, and shelter yourself. They offer food and clothing, the basic necessities, to get you through the coming hours. Gawkers, volunteers, and a handful of well-meaning individuals show up to help you (or get in the way) through recovery and cleanup, digging through to salvage what they can and assisting in moving the damage so the rebuilding can begin. Through all of this, power is out. Gas lines are cut. Sewer and water lines, likely damaged, are useless. Sewage contaminates a great deal. Landlines are down; cell phones are jammed. You are alone, except for those who have shown up to do something, anything. You spend your nights in shelters, in friends' guest rooms, in hotels..and you spend your days in the ruins of what used to be your life. Goverment officials show up to tell you what the damage really means and how they will help you when the red tape clears up. Your insurance agent has great news - he's found a loophole so that they don't have to pay for any of this. And then the trash crews start coming through with heavy machinery to push debris to the curb, then a special trash truck (oversized, with a giant claw much like the stuffed animal carnival games in the grocery store) devours the remnants of all you have ever known. It's hauled away and then...there is nothing.
There are some groups who have come up with neat ways to help. Tide (the laundry detergent) sends mobile laundromats to wash your clothes. Because it's a taste of normal and a small gesture that makes an impact. Grief counselors - from community organizations and government agencies - come in to talk with the victims, to assist on the emotional side as best they can. First responders come with donated stuffed animals to give to the children, something to hold and squeeze and hug. Something to be...just a kid again. And of course, there are groups that mobilize by the thousands to assist in the cleanup and rebuild.
Then what is left?
As I prayed to God for some way to put skin on Him in these communities, I was immediately flooded with the images of the loneliness. Because while it's great to have the shelter, the food, and the clothing, the help during the day and the place to lay your head at night, the truth is that whenever there's a moment of silence, of darkness, of stillness - when you can't do anything else because the lights have gone out or the volunteers have gone home or you're just completley wiped of energy - the weight of the situation is crushing.
So I wondered - what can we do to meet these people in that place? In that extremely lonely, dark, quiet, tumultuous place where the words of a grief counselor, the outreach of the community, the one salvaged treasure is nice...but just doesn't cut it?
And what I thought about was this:
How can we get Bibles into the hands of those in disaster areas?
This isn't some hyper-evangelism effort, moving in on disaster to introduce God. These people are already looking for Him - some who have known Him before and others looking for Him to make sense of everything. And in the moment of truth, we're mostly too busy saving our children, our pets, our treasures, to think of something like grabbing our Bible.
But those of us who read His word every day know how He uses it to speak to us. We know what a comfort it is in our darkest moments. We know even when we don't feel like reading, we open those pages anyway because something calls to us. And there, we find hope. We find grace. We find mercy. We find promise. We find something to hang onto, something meaningful, something real.
Those things, above all, are what these survivors need. They need something for the lonely moments, something to hang their hearts on, a promise revealed, a constant Friend. They need the encouraging words, the hope, the grace, the power and wisdom of the God who sees them in their shelters, in their streets, in their dirty hair and donated outfits and distress and disorientation.
And you know - you KNOW - there are churches sitting on piles of old pew Bibles, long since replaced by newer versions or fresher binding. You know there are publishing houses who would make a donation to give this hope to these people. You know that you and I are sitting on our own cache of Bibles - different translations, old favorites, versions we used to read every day but haven't touched in years, ones we bought or received as gifts that didn't really speak to us the same way a differently-worded one did. We have the Word; and there are people who have lost everything who need that Word.
Can we find a Good Word for them? Can we get it into their hands? So that even when there's nothing left around them...they know they are never alone.