In the days and weeks following the nation's worst-ever natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, The Salvation Army in the USA Southern Territory—with help from officers, soldiers, employees, and volunteers throughout the nation—answered God's call, as the Southern Territory's mission statement puts it, "to love inclusively, serve helpfully, and disciple effectively."
Then, close on Katrina's heels came Rita, and an already-stretched Salvation Army geared up once more to help. The relief efforts, from serving water to evacuees stuck in traffic gridlock in Texas to providing temporary housing and long-term aid to survivors, is truly just beginning. That effort is expected to last three years or more. And just as soon as Hurricane Wilma struck Florida, the Army was immediately on the scene.
As for those who serve in The Salvation Army, says Captain Debra Chambless, who served in Biloxi, Miss.: "We hope and pray that the families will not only find shelter from the storm but will also feel safe in the arms of Jesus."
On the pages that follow are stories and photographs of the work of The Salvation Army in the wake of the storms.
Sheltered from the Storm
In the days after Hurricane Katrina hit, The Salvation Army sheltered evacuees from New Orleans in four massive shelters in San Antonio, Texas. Walker, social services director and service extension director in the Army division that includes Washington, northern Idaho, and Montana, served as a pastoral care counselor.
While there to help, I was privileged to walk alongside some of these people...
Angela, 64, was the first person I met who had been in the [New Orleans] Superdome the week of the hurricane. It had been hell, she said; she huddled with family in a corner, fearing for their lives. She had blisters on her feet from wearing the wet slippers that she had to wash every time she visited the overflowing restroom. Still, she was grateful and her faith was strong. "God helped me through," she said.
Thomas survived at the Convention Center in New Orleans until Thursday night after the hurricane. He said he was "tired of promises—promises that didn't materialize. They said 'Buses are coming, buses are coming,' but they don't come, they don't come." Because of his wariness, I walked with him to the Salvation Army's bus ticket desk. Later, with a big smile and a voucher for Greyhound, he was ready to leave and start over.
An elderly lady was looking for FEMA signup. I took her there. She clasped my hand with tears in her eyes.
"Thank you so much," she said.
"Do you have family?" I asked.
"No, I'm by myself, but I have made friends," she answered. "I guess we're all family now."
Holding my hand tight, she said, "God bless you" before I could say it to her.
The opening verses in the Bible speak of God's Spirit over the face of the deep—a symbol for chaos—then, separating the waters, He creates the world. God is working like this in these lives—parting the waters and the chaos and creating in them new hope, possibilities, and life. Their belongings are gone, but their spirits are strong.
An Inland Front Line
Majors Chiffonia and Mark Smith, corps officers (pastors) in Tuscaloosa, Ala., suddenly found themselves on the front line of hurricane relief. The city, affected by Katrina's wrath, still had an intact infrastructure, so it quickly became a port of refuge for people fleeing north.
Eight thousand evacuees swelled the city's population of 78,000 by 10 percent in just a day or two, with many new neighbors planning to settle in for the long term.
"Our Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary and Advisory Board were right in front, leading about 1,500 volunteers who became our hands and feet," said Chiffonia.
"I'm very proud of our volunteers, who are working well into the eighth week after the disaster nightmare began," said Mark in mid-October.
John Sisson, advisory board chair in Tuscaloosa, and his family gave countless volunteer hours in the warehouse, on canteens, and in the food lines at the Army's shelters, which fed nearly 1,600 people each day.
John says that when the Smiths arrived in January 2005, he told them "to call on us to help wherever and whenever needed."
"Major Mark sure took me at my word, even before this..." Sisson says with a broad smile, "but we are very glad he does because this community is all about helping others."
Major Carl Carvill, a Salvation Army pastor in Nashua, N.H., spent two weeks of pastoral care duty in Dallas. Following are excerpts from his journal.
O ur colleagues in the South are beat to their socks, some having had no break from the beginning. They have worked very hard to clear the pathway for us to do pastoral care with the thousands of souls from the Gulf here.
...Major Barbara George wins the Track Star Award for today. She went to speak with a little old lady in a wheelchair who had no credentials other than being displaced, physically challenged, and sick, from New Orleans. Barbara cut about 20 yards of red tape, took the lady to at least seven different places, and got her settled with medical attention. What a privilege for us to do such pure ministry with people who need God's hand to reach out and take theirs!
...The Dallas Convention Center is filled with the noises of a frontal attack on devastation: whirring dentist drills—one lady had six teeth removed; constant PA announcements; many TVs, all on different stations; laughter, tears, giggles; frustrated youngsters; forklifts rearranging cargo and changing the cement landscape. And the sights: 1,000 folding tables; temporary barricades; a sea of variously adorned canvas cots; 4-ply plastic "suitcases" filled with belongings; and hundreds of bottles of waterless bacteria cleanser that became embedded in everyone's skin, including mine.
... Pastoral care in these awful settings is never about me. Yes, I was permitted to receive people's burdens, but my job was to turn them toward the real Burden-Bearer, Jesus. How satisfying it was to see burdens lifted for so many, even in their immediate circumstances.
As I write, another storm, Rita, is on its way. Who knows what that will mean? I'm happily perched in New England and so encouraged by the outpouring of love that greeted me on my homecoming. So I'm in no rush to be away again. But we salute and follow. Who knows? "He knows, and tempers every wind that blows."
Short-Term and Long-Haul Help
In the Mississippi towns of Pascagoula, Moss Point, Gautier, and Ocean Springs, Salvation Army Major Charles Deitrick, sent from Rochester, N.Y., worked hand-in-hand with Sgts. Brett and Kim Cundiff to serve the community.
The Cundiffs had been lay pastors in charge of the Army church (corps) in Pascagoula for just two months when Katrina hit, wiping out their shelter for abused women as well as their own home. The chapel, corps building, and men's shelter were all damaged too.
Deitrick, who has been pitching in at disaster scenes for The Salvation Army since he was 16, commends the Cundiffs for continuing their corps ministry in a professional and compassionate way as they deal with their own loss.
With up to six canteens in the field, The Salvation Army fed up to 1,500 people a day. Deitrick and Sergeant Jason Swain, canteen coordinator, prayed with their crews at the start and finish of each day's work.
"[Our service] is not just about feeding people," the major would tell the hard-working crews. "It's about the holistic approach of ministering, meeting special needs, and offering spiritual support, whether with a word of hope or with prayer. That's the key."
Part of Deitrick's charge was also to create a case-management system to address families' long-term needs. For example, the Army worked closely with Howard Barnes, 77 and blind, and his wife, Mary, 83, who had lost their home and just about everything they had.
First, the Army helped get the couple—literally—into their temporary Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) trailer. It had been parked on their lot for more than a week, but the couple had no key.
Deitrick and Suzi Lacey, public information officer, also delivered a washer and dryer to the couple.
"When Suzi and I left to head back to the corps, we passed a Radio Shack«," says Deitrick. "After a quick stop there, we drove back to [the Barnes's home in] Moss Point to fill an immediate and urgent need: We gave Howard his first Braille telephone, his lifeline to his community and family."
Mary later told Deitrick and Lacey that her husband had been so happy to that he took the phone to bed with him.
Says Deitrick, "We brought much more than food and material aid to families like the Barneses. We brought hope to carry them forward in their lives. With hope, everything can be rebuilt!"
Strength to Serve
A ll over the South, our officers are remaining faithful to their people and commands with no regard for personal loss. Not since 9/11 have I seen anything close to it.
I spent several hours with an officer in Pascagoula, Miss., who, along with his wife and three children, were living in a donated camper on the corps [church] parking lot. His quarters [home] had been flooded; his earthly goods had been placed on the curb; and he had been forbidden to re-enter. So he moved his family, first to a room in the damaged corps building; and then, when the job at hand required that space, to the camper. Still, he never stopped serving—hot meals from a dozen canteens, debit cards, clothing, fresh water, social work at a rate unheard of before Katrina.
In the midst of all this chaos, God is making Himself known. You need only offer to pray with one person and others will huddle around. Emotional and spiritual care counselors are as busy as any other relief workers. Souls are being won, 24/7.
Personally, I'm back! [LaMarr, a Salvation Army lieutenant colonel, suffered a stroke a few years ago that left him with physical and speech impairment.] The hours, physical work, and emotional toll have focused me in a way that I haven't felt in several years. Drove a truck with a standard transmission because nobody else knew how! (I didn't say I drove it well or even safely, but drive it I did!) Have loaded and unloaded vehicles at a rate that would worry a teamster. I have served as public information officer, and if anyone noticed my faulty speech, they never said a word. When I conduct devotions or a chapel service, people are kind enough to stop for the moment and willingly gather. So the story goes.