What good does a person actually do when one volunteers for a week or a month—and then leaves?
Nineteen of us from St. Paul Lutheran Church, Omaha, Neb., went to Louisiana to remind “Katrina kids,” their families and ourselves that God loves them ... sometimes through traveling camp counselors. We brought all our supplies and staffed a Camp Noah week. This day camp gives elementary children a chance to talk about their disaster, hear a Bible story about tragedy, play, and increase their faith—ours too.
Christian life is supposed to be about relationship. But how much relationship can happen in a week? Is it really helpful to show up and reach out to people you may never encounter again? The pragmatic part of me says, of course. As Midwesterners our barn-building, quilting bee heritage told us that gathering together to help one family helps us all. When there’s a disaster, people are just supposed to help fix the mess. But part of me says I should just pray and send cash. That helps too.
Occasionally I question, “Just who are you doing this for? Them? Yourself? God?” Then I recall the foolish Samaritan who stopped anyway. He helped a hurt traveler, arranged for care, checked on the victim again, then went on with his life. He didn’t stay long. Just stepped up and did right. Then he went on.
Sometimes the most important part is the doing—doing what you can, as you are able, even if it’s just a moment. Our group from St. Paul did just that. We got to be the do-gooders. It did us good.
Camp Noah seems more than church as usual, more than ordinary vacation Bible school. Yet perhaps it really is church as usual, in a different setting. Faithful people doing ordinary camp things with people for whom little is ordinary after a disaster. Some St. Paul members took Camp Noah training; others paid for training, travel and supplies. Together we combined our gifts.
At Camp Noah, each child creates a personal disaster kit as a way of coping through preparation. They decorate plastic boxes that they fill with flashlights, batteries, snacks, cards, games, crayons, a list of disaster phone numbers and other helpful things. Our group put kits together the first day. Our plan was that at the end of the week, each child could take home the kit, a Bible, all their creations.
Ebony wanted to take hers home right away on Monday.
I hedged, wavering: “But you’re coming back tomorrow, right?”
She looked up at me and said quietly, “Yes, if tomorrow comes.” Not upset or dramatic, just practical.
“Yeah. OK. Sure,” I said. “You can take the kit with you, and come back tomorrow.”
So Ebony and I took home our disaster kits today, not waiting for tomorrow. Hers is a decorated box filled with practical stuff chosen with care and love. Mine is tucked inside my heart, the knowing that love goes on whether or not tomorrow comes.
Editor’s note: “Sunshine, flowers & FEMA trailers,” a related story, will appear in the September issue of The Lutheran.
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