This past Wednesday, volunteers from Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church went to serve a small community in the Ensley area of Birmingham. This area was one of the hard hit areas from the storms and tornadoes of April 27, 2011. Crews went earlier in the day to conduct debris removal and clean up with a later team to feed the community via Westmont Baptist Church. Personally, I was amazed by the turnout of OMPC volunteers as compared with the prior week when we served Moody. It seemed to have doubled, if not tripled!
Let me be honest for a moment though. This is one location in which having print directions and GPS map function on an iPhone did no good. The directions gave names of roads, many of which no signs were present or signs were knocked down by the tornado. The map feature said to turn in a different direction. Following what I instinctively wanted to follow and not being able to get the two to coordinate, I ended up on a very narrow road made all the more narrow by the devastation from those storms. It was bad. Finally after passing the road I needed probably for the third time, I was able to get on the correct road only then to find that mileage does not really mean much on directions either. That area will definitely try one's patience!
So, I've been feeling a little useless and helpless as I can't go out with the debris removal teams and we do tend to have more hands than needed (which is an excellent thing) with the other teams. So I'm now sort of the unofficial photographer. Unofficial in that I am not a professional, I just love taking pictures of, well, everything, so I can capture a lot and stay out of the way and still feel like I'm helping somehow. You know you see a lot from behind the camera. I would say from behind the lens except that most camera phones don't actually have lenses, now do they? I know I certainly do.
I see pain. These people, these neighbors, these friends, these families, these brothers and sisters, they have real pain right now. So many of them have lost everything. Literally everything. Last year, I felt like I had lost a lot when I was told that I have an immune deficiency that is practically unheard of and has no cure and no treatment. And don't get me wrong, I did lose a lot with that diagnosis, but these people have lost EVERYTHING. I still have a lot to be thankful for. I don't always see it and I don't always feel it, but I do. I have my house. I have my cat and my dog. I have my clothes. I have my collectibles. I have my car. I have my phone. I have my family. I have my friends. I have my church. I have people who love and care for me even when I don't understand their quirks in showing that love and care. But some of these people lost all of that when those storms ripped through.
I heard on the news a girl from Cullman who said that her church was leveled. But she said all they lost was the church building. She still has her church, the people that go there. In spite of the fact that so many of these people have literally lost so much, I keep hearing the sounds of appreciation and joy and thankfulness. It's overwhelming. If they can be so thankful in the midst of such loss, why is it so hard for me when I still have so much?
It seems as though in the midst of the chaos and confusion, despite the chaos and confusion, there are people who have seen ways to still be thankful. And apparently, I am starting to develop that thankful heart myself as a result.
Maybe it's true what the group Alabama sings, "...there are angels among us," and maybe those angels are what help us to be thankful in the midst of chaos and confusion.
Another thing I am thankful for right now is that my church has been so responsive to the needs as a result of this disaster in Alabama and has been offering organized ways for people to get involved in the relief efforts through so many different avenues. Because in some ways, doing exactly what we are currently doing, is allowing each and every person to have the opportunity to be a missionary. There are few things that even the youngest and the oldest can't do right now.
To see some of the pictures from this week: http://photo2.walgreens.com/walgreens/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=12517722006/a=5001910006_5001910006/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=walgreens/ or http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100199558026185.2592095.27434363&l=ecc7571383
http://www.oakmountainchurch.org/tornado-disaster-relief has a lot of the ways people can get involved.
For Sunday, the Third Day tornado benefit concert I posted about Monday could still use as many volunteers as they can get. It'll be a great way to have fun listening to some great groups and help at the same time. And to exercise a thankful heart!