The following was published on the Evangelical Church Alliance International website at http://www.ecainternational.org/
It really hit me when I picked up the clipboard and read “All addresses destroyed except 22835.”
It was the route assignment for our Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle from which we would be serving meals to victims of the recent firestorms in a subdivision in San Diego County.
Although I had trained for such events, the utter devastation caught me by surprise. I only asked once “Were you able to save anything?” On scene I surveyed lot after lot with nothing but gray and white ashes, interrupted by an occasional chimney, sink, or appliance.
Mostly I learned to stand still with the home owners, who from time to time would voice a memory or grieve a loss. Some wanted a hug and some shook my hand. Others just wanted to share the moment or needed a shoulder to cry on.
Contrasted with the dreary devastation of the scene was the upbeat resiliency of the people I encountered. They all mentioned that no one had been lost, despite the intensity and unpredictability of the fire. They all wanted to build again on such a sacred space. This space was doubly sacred because not only was it their own personal residence, but it was next to a religious retreat center where many had seen healing of body, mind, and soul.
Some reaffirmed their faith and said it was helping them through such tough times. They gave thanks for the outpouring of assistance. There was talk of building back bigger and better. There was also musing that God might be calling them in another direction. Each person has to decide their own recovery plan. Some will stay and some will move on. It was good just to hear them out, acknowledge their concerns, and give them a safe place to consider the next step. Being in an unfamiliar, scary place is bad — but it’s worse when you are there alone.
That’s where the Red Cross comes in. By putting mental health workers (and chaplains like me) on the ERV’s, we can meet basic needs of body, mind, and soul. Supplying a cold bottle of water, voicing understanding, or offering compassion can quench anguish of body, mind, and soul. “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” (Psalm 94:19).
At the end of a weary day I returned to Red Cross headquarters. My steel-toed boots were dusty with ashes and my face was a little sunburned. “All addresses destroyed except 22835” was no longer a notation but a vivid picture burned into my mind. I can only hope that as the victims bring their experience to mind they will also picture that someone was standing with them in their time of anguish.
I am thankful for the opportunity to serve in this way, and encourage my fellow clergy to check out the many ways they can train to be of service with their local Red Cross.
Rev. Connie Regener (MAT '95) is an ordained ECA minister and a board certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. She is an experienced hospital and hospice chaplain and part of the Orange County Disaster Action Team for the American Red Cross.