Hurricane Katrina: What Should We Expect When Disaster Strikes?

Here I sit with React Now (CMT, MTV, VH1) playing on the television. Pearl Jam comes on and their front man announces to his audience that they are trying to raise money to help the hurricane victims. He says they feel that the government should be taking care of this, but sometimes you have to rise up and help each other out. I get the general impression that they’re not the only ones who feel that way.

How sad it is that so many Americans have such a low sense of duty and patriotism, such an absent sense of pride and responsibility that they truly believe in their deepest heart that helping those in need, most by doing little more than contributing cash or old clothes, is—indeed, should be—a last resort!

When, exactly, did it become the government’s job to live our lives for us? How can I even write a sentence like that in America! Let me explain… Are we not supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people? Were not our elected officials supposed to be our representatives and not our replacements? Are we so far divorced from this idea that, in our minds, the government must now be either our number one public servant or, if not, public enemy number one?

I expect a lot from the government. I expect them to clean up and rebuild the infrastructure of the Gulf Coast. I expect them to protect and preserve as many lives as possible.

I expect more from my fellow citizens! I expect them to care and restore broken lives. I expect them to first mourn with those who mourn. Then, I expect them to sacrifice what they have for the sake of those who have not. I expect them to provide shelter for those who have no where else to go. I expect them to feed hungry stomachs with food and fill hungry hearts with faith.

Despite the photo opportunities of the last two weeks, the government cannot be there to hold hands and calm minds. There is a human element that transcends political intentions. But even when the government is at its best, there is too much to be done. There is a mountain of catastrophe that must be moved through prayer and practical assistance. More than anything, I expect The Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, denominations and local churches to be on the frontlines.

In September 2001, I wrote the following words:
“We have suffered much loss in America. The world has seen and felt our grief and stands together with us, even as we realize our own solidarity. The biggest tragedy is the enormous human loss. But this disaster also halted transportation, commerce, and entertainment at all levels. It took away (if only temporarily) all we thought we needed and wanted and for which we had worked so hard. It left us only with a realization of what is really important: the people around us–all people, every human life–and faith in the one true and loving God.”

Why MUST there be an enemy for us to unite? Have we turned against ourselves simply because there is no one for us to unite against? Is it that the rest of the country is not facing the imminent threat of disaster that we feel so much more vehement about criticism than compassion?

We know that the federal government, under pressure, has been reconsidering its disaster relief procedures. How many of our state and local officials have become introspective about their regional threats? What will happen to California when a major earthquake hits? Will Washington be able to withstand another major volcanic eruption? So many natural disasters loom over us (not to mention human threats).

In this world we will have tribulations. When they hit, are America’s citizens ready—willing—to help? I hope the ideal of civilian compassion is not limited to a Christian worldview.

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