NOTE: Disaster Resource & Response Team member Fred Meade recently returned from Texas where he was deployed with the American Red Cross to provide disaster emotional and spiritual care following Hurricane Harvey.
Aug. 31, 2017
I have been doing spiritual care in three shelters in the San Antonio area. There are thousands of people in shelters; many have lost homes and are waiting on cots, anxious and wanting to go back home.
It is deeply meaningful work. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to serve. Doing this volunteer work has given me the privilege of entering into the private lives of good people who are suffering. This is at the heart of neighbor love.
The work of disaster spiritual care requires an open heart as well as a deep commitment to compassion. In the last three days, I've spoken to over 60 people who have been traumatized by this storm. In almost every encounter with people who have so little, they have always said thank you afterwards, and all I did was simply listen and allow their story to unfold.
But disaster spiritual care is more than listening; it is doing whatever needs to be done to help out those persons who have been so deeply affected. Part of what that has meant here is getting larger cots for people who need them, trying to find the right diaper size, or trying to connect people to FEMA when they didn't realize they needed to do that.
I have heard countless stories from people who have deep faith and I have found it very humbling.
Sept. 5, 2017
I've been down here now for 10 days. It has been an incredibly powerful experience. Working with the Red Cross is a powerful witness to the way in which those whose motivations are pure can make a significant difference in the lives of those who have been marginalized by disasters.
If there are any ordained clergy who are interested in doing spiritual care for the Red Cross, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sept. 6, 2017
The disaster spiritual care work that I am doing has a shelter in San Antonio that is beginning to wind down. At one point, it had close to 500 people. Currently there are only about 50 people in the shelter. Each day people leave and each day people come in. But despite the changing number of people, there still is a need to provide spiritual care.
As spiritual care providers we create a space where Hope can arise in people's lives. It is very profound work and is at the heart of what Jesus meant when he had compassion on individuals or groups in the New Testament.
On a different note, I want to give a shout out to the San Antonio Police Department as well as the Army National Guard and the local Sheriff Department. They've done an outstanding job creating a safe and secure place in the shelters.
A significant part of all we do is listening, accepting, and showing compassion to those whose lives have completely fallen apart. It is a sacred journey to be part of the process. Certainly there are times when I feel overwhelmed by what I've heard. To deal with that each night I lead a team of chaplains through a debriefing to process what happened during the day. So even though one may be deployed as an individual, you are part of a supportive team whose main objective is to reconnect traumatized people to their center of hope.
This is my last day in San Antonio doing spiritual care work for the Red Cross. It has been extremely rewarding, however I do feel pretty drained. I have spoken to well over 200 people in the last two weeks. I have shared tears and laughter as well as simply an open heart and ears to the unfolding events in the individual and family lives.
I have received many supportive comments and prayers from friends and family and for that I am deeply grateful. I certainly appreciate the support from our UCC Disaster Resource and Response Team. It was wonderful to know that churches back home were for praying for me.
Many people have asked me if I'm gonna go out again. And right now I honestly can't answer that. I do need to take some time to re-center myself through my own spiritual practices. Will I do this again? Absolutely. I have seen and witnessed the presence of God in the lives of so many people who are suffering. To me providing disaster spiritual care is a sacramental experience in which both the giver and receiver are drawn closer to God.
One of the "secrets" I have rediscovered on this deployment with Red Cross is the importance of being grounded spiritually during encounters with people in a shelter. To me being grounded means that you bring a deep spirit of peace. This peaceful presence creates a space of trust between the listener and the person affected by the disaster.
In addition it is important to have no expectations as to the outcome of the interaction. Often our expectations create goals in our own mind that become barriers in our interactions. It has been my experience that the quiet spirit of a listener grounded in one's faith tradition creates the space where hope can potentially arise. For many, the experience of hope is the first step toward healing and wholeness.
We all need to remember that this level of deep listening is a profound gift we bring to anyone who is in transition but especially those who have been traumatized for any reason.
On many occasions both the media and friends have asked me to share stories of what the disaster "victims" went through. Like $100 bills I tend not to share them very often. The reason is simply I don't want others to carry the emotional burden that comes with listening to trauma.
Too often we sensationalize the suffering of others. Certainly the media is guilty of this. But as a culture we have created this need or hunger to watch people suffer. Perhaps this is driven by a certain numbness that exits among us. For some, watching others in pain may wake us up to something more real in the human condition.
Unfortunately suffering sells, but at what cost to the human spirit? Sacred stories shared to relieve suffering need to simply be lifted up to God by the hearts of the listeners. That is at the center of self care for those that choose to do disaster spiritual care.
Thank you for listening to the musings of my heart.
Listen to an interview by WCAI (NPR station for the Cape and the Islands) with Fred Meade about his work in Texas post-Hurricane Harvey.
For information on the ways you or your church can help victims of Hurricane Harvey, including assembling cleanup buckets, see Don Remick's blog.
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