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Bishop Mark Narum Headshot

After The Flood: Religious Recovery in the Face of Disaster

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In recent days I have been walking with people whose lives have been turned upside down as they watch the waters of the Mouse River "roar and foam" its way out of the Canadian Prairies, into the States and down through towns many people had never heard of before. Swallowed up were Mouse River Park, Burlington, Minot, rural areas around Logan, Sawyer and Velva, North Dakota. Lost in this assault of nature were not just homes, not just possessions but also the illusion of safety and independence.

When word came that the river would be rising to all time record levels people went into a sprint mode. Friends, family and strangers gathered to empty homes of everything they could haul away. In some areas people began an effort to fight the coming flood with sand-bags and dikes. Some small victories were won, other efforts failed. Together, we now wait for flood waters to recede. While bodies maybe at rest, minds rush a thousand miles a minute, churning up endless questions: "Will my home be salvageable? Will I be allowed to re-build? Is my business gone? Will it be wise or safe to rebuild? Thousands of questions and frustratingly there are no clear answers.

As people of the Cross we have resources to draw upon in such times, an important one is lament. From the cross Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46) If the Son of God can Lament, why not us, who are wondering where God is in the midst of all of this. Lament is an act of deep faith. Even as we question, rant or cry, it is God the Father who we are addressing. Giving people space to cry, yell, and question is a necessary gift.

Second, now is the time to give up our tendency toward independence. My garage is filled with every tool I need for home repair. My neighbor's garage is outfitted in the same way as are most garages down my street. Why? Partly because we don't want to impose on our neighbors, we want to be self-sufficient. Now is the time to graciously receive help, to allow strangers to care for us. Hundreds upon hundreds of people are not only willing help with cleanup efforts, but they want to use their God-given gifts to serve. People of faith understand that through Christ's death and resurrection we have been freed, set loose to serve others. Accepting help will be a gift.

Third, the "sprint" is over, we are now moving into a marathon. Water is on the main floors of thousands of homes, churches and businesses. It will take a couple of weeks for the water to recede. Then the slow process of ripping out sheetrock, carpet, and furnaces begins. Basements will have to be pumped, mucked out and sanitized. We are looking at months upon months of work, over that time many will experience an emotional roller coaster. Time to grieve will be important. As with any disaster, people outside the affected area quickly go back to their normal routines, victims do not. It will be important to continue providing resources, including helping hands, listening ears, and shoulders to cry on for victims of the disaster.

Last, it is the "least of these" we must be especially mindful of during times of recovery. Some people are gifted with multiple resources, such as finances, a network of family and friends, or knowledge of systems of support; others do not have these gifts. It is incumbent upon us to seek out those who feel they have nowhere to turn for help. My heart broke when I heard a television interview with a young mother of 5 who got out of their home with just their clothes and documents. It said to me that she did not know how or where to turn for help to get her family's possessions out of her home. Chances are she has now lost all of those possessions. As followers of the risen Christ we must do better.

In these days ahead I will spend lots of time listening. Cups of coffee will be offered as an unspoken excuse to get people to sit and talk, to share their stories. In the midst of that Christ will be present, this is the promise that we all will cling to with our lives.