Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sharing the Love of Christ in Baghdad (Part 3 of 3)

[Continued from November 20, 2008; see below.] All throughout our conversation, U.S. Army Chaplain James (Lt. Col.) Carter (U.S. Army Chaplain (Multi-National Division – Baghdad and 4th Infantry Division) kept coming back to the service members’ families back home. He explained to me several ways that churches and individual Christians can help support and minister to U.S. military personnel serving overseas, even if they don’t know anyone there personally.

Not surprisingly, this church leader recommended that individual American Christians work with their local churches.

“It all starts with relationships, so the best thing to do is for people to work with their local churches,” he says. “A local church can sponsor individual service members, or a squad or platoon.

With all of the reserve and National Guard units involved in this conflict, nearly every church in America has someone in its congregation with a relative or friend who has served, is serving or will serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. (The fact that both of our recent vice presidential candidates had sons headed to Iraq points to the commonality of this experience.) Chaplain Carter says that those are the logical starting points for how to find service personnel to whom the minister.

“Get the names of the service members who would like to hear from members of the church. Write them letters… send them books and supplies… flood them with birthday cards and candy that they like… and pray for them.

Here is a well-written article about what kind of care packages to send to service personnel in Iraq (or other places).

He says to do the same kinds of things for the service member’s spouses and children back home. “Fifty percent of our military personnel are married,” he says. “Some of these guys are on their third combat tour in five years and half of them are on their second tour. That means that some of them have spent 27 of the past 39 months in combat [zones]. That is a major stress for those back home to have their loved ones ‘down range.’

“It is a huge relief on these guys to know that their loved ones are being cared for at home. Make sure their spouses are cared for and that their kids get birthday and Christmas presents. These de facto single parents are the real heroes. Dad [or Mom] is deployed, so they are left caring for the kids, doing the car maintenance, keeping the grades up and all the rest. Let them know that they are loved and appreciated for their sacrifices and for what their soldier is doing. They are the ones saying, ‘I will trust my husband [or wife] with you.’”

Churches can also minister to those who were wounded. “The wounded warrior ministry is huge,” he says.

Guest speakers

Churches that are near military installations or hospitals can invite unit and base chaplains to come and speak to their congregations for a few minutes on a Sunday morning about ministering to service personnel. Invite them to bring soldiers with them who have been overseas and impacted by chaplains' ministries to share with the congregation.

“And realize, also, that many of our chaplains are on their second tour of duty, as well,” Chaplain Carter continues. “Many chaplains come into the military a little older than traditional service members, and that going to Iraq is often a second placement in a second career. Compassion and ministry fatigue can be very are real, so it is important to minister to the ministers. And a good place for a church to start may be with its own denomination’s chaplains.”

A congregation’s veterans may be the perfect group to coordinate this type of ministry that Chaplain Carter describes. That group will find it easier than non-veterans to coordinate relationships with active military personnel, as they can often “speak the same language” and relate to one another’s experiences. “However, anyone who is given access to soldiers’ personal information will probably need to first pass a background check,” Chaplain Carder explains.

Deeply Blessed

“Right now, we are deeply blessed,” concludes Chaplain Carter. God is working. The battlefield is much calmer. That means that chaplains can navigate around the battlefield much better. And Major General Jeff Hammond [Commanding General of the 4th Infantry Division] is committed to the chaplains’ consistency and our troops’ spiritual fitness.”

Please consider seeking out service members who might be in harm’s way to love on with Christ’s love as they serve our nation and defend our values and way of life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sharing the Love of Christ in Baghdad (Part 2 of 3)

In my last entry, I explained how I recently had an extended conversation with U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James R. Carter, a Presbyterian Church in America chaplain who is 12 months into a 15-month tour of duty in Baghdad.

Chaplain Carter (Multi-National Division – Baghdad (MND-B) and 4th Infantry Division Chaplain) is the senior U.S. Military chaplain in Baghdad, overseeing 70 other chaplains from all military branches and of all faiths, and he supervises the religious support program for 33,000 service personnel.

“We have a very robust chaplain program,” he told me in his humble but excited way. “At Camp Liberty, we have three chapels of about 150 seats each…like small churches. We have an amazing number of services in each, with services in all three all day long on Sundays. The chaplains serve 15,000 soldiers in Camp Liberty, and 33,000 in the Multi-National Division – Baghdad. It’s larger than I ever anticipated.”

Despite the need for good preaching in all of those chapel services, many of the chaplains are especially strong in relational ministries like pastoral care and counseling. Unlike church pastoring, which is heavy on pulpit preaching, program administration and organizational management, military chaplains live day-in and day-out with members of their flock.

“Most of our ministry takes place ‘outside the wire,’” he says, meaning outside of the safety zone of the fortified, heavily defended camp and throughout the streets of Baghdad.

He goes on to tell a story of a patrol convoy with which he recently rode. “The last thing that they do every time before they go outside the wire is that a sergeant recites the Lord’s Prayer over the speaker in everyone’s helmet. Here are these hardened warriors, locked and loaded and ready for action, stopping for prayer before heading out into danger. Usually, there is constant chatter on the headsets, but when he prayed, there was nothing else but dead silence. It was a deeply spiritual act.”

No Gospel Lite

Chaplain Carter says that he and his fellow chaplains go as spiritually deep as possible with their flocks. “We don’t do Gospel Lite,” he says with a combination of chuckle and stern-faced commitment. “We really dig into the deeper theological doctrines.”

“For some,” he continues, “deployment is spiritual survival. But others experience spiritual openness and vulnerability to God, and to other people of God. It’s okay to reach out on the battlefield. The soldiers understand that they must have a battle buddy on the battlefield, someone to watch their back. We tell them that it is the same in their spiritual lives… They need to have battle buddies there, too. So we really encourage accountability groups among the chaplains and with other spiritually mature groups. Those are in addition to the Bible studies and chapel services that we offer.”

Chaplain Carter explains that in addition to serving the U.S. troops, he and his team extend their reach out into the Iraqi army. And they have had some connection with the local indigenous church

“We have had multiple RLE’s, or religious leader engagements,” he says. “It’s a slow building process to interact with the local church, which is just starting to trickle back into Iraq. But we have had some ground breaking work with local congregations.”

He explains that local Iraqi Christian churched can function openly, within reason. “They can gather without fear, but most of them are very small,” he says. “But we must be sensitive when working with a local church. We’re primarily there to minister to our soldiers, but we can also facility reconciliation when possible.”

For example, the chaplains have been able working with their commanders and local religious leaders of different faiths to provide school supplies to local children. “But we must be judicious, sensitive and wise. And everything must be done appropriately,” he explains. “Not out of evangelizing, but to facilitate the greater good.”

Lt. Col. James Carter (far right), chaplain, 4th Infantry Division and Multi-National Division – Baghdad, sits next to Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. and MND-B, and talks with members of the Killeen Muslim Leaders during a video teleconference meeting, July 22, 2008.

Hammond and Carter held the meeting to discuss ongoing issues between Muslim communities and the military forces in Baghdad, as well as gain insight from the Muslim leaders to help further current progress within the Iraqi communities. Photographer: Sgt. Jason Thompson, Multi-National Division Baghdad.

I still have one more day worth of comments to share about my conversation with Chaplain Carter. Check back on my next post to read what he says about how American congregations can support our troops and the chaplains who minister to them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sharing the Love of Christ in Baghdad (Part 1 of 3)

“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

It’s still true, says U.S. Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James R. Carter, Multi-National Division – Baghdad (MND-B) and 4th Infantry Division Chaplain.

He would know, too. He has been an Army chaplain for 21 years, and is 12 months into a 15-month tour of duty in Baghdad.

I spoke with him earlier this month in Baghdad for well over an hour and asked him every question I could think of about his ministry there. Our conversation was fascinating – bordering on surreal – as he described a way of life and ministry that is unlike what most Americans experience. And yet while his stories and experiences held me captivated, Chaplain Carter was in every way transparent, genuine and accessible.

This is his second combat tour with the Army; his first combat tour was in the first Gulf War. He is the senior U.S. Military chaplain in Baghdad, overseeing 70 other U.S. Military chaplains from all branches and of all faiths, and he supervises the religious support program for 33,000 service personnel. In that role, he represents both his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, and his alma mater, Reformed Theological Seminary of Jacksonville, Florida.

With great candor, Chaplain Carter talked to me about things like how he and his fellow chaplains minister to battle-hardened soldiers in places as safe as a Sunday morning chapel service and as dangerous as at active battle sites, helping carry freshly wounded. “My chaplains have experienced incoming rounds, mortars and rockets,” he told me. “Two of them have been hit by IEDs, though, thank God, there been no serious injuries or fatalities.”

As part combat chaplain and part community pastor, Chaplain Carter told me that he and his fellow military chaplains minister in three ways: 1) nurturing the living through pastoral care and preaching/teaching in an military “operational environment;” 2) caring for the wounded at attack sites, medical aid stations and military field hospitals; and 3) honoring the fallen, showing proper dignity and respect at memorial services, and in facilitating healing for those who remain with messages of comfort, confidence in God and hope.

Tremendous Spiritual Openness

Chaplain Carter says that he and his fellow chaplains see tremendous spiritual openness in their military flock, “now more than ever as young soldiers search and ask questions.” Iraq includes or is near the cradle of Biblical civilizations, encompassing areas like the Garden of Eden (at the headwaters of the Tigress and Euphrates Rivers) and the land of Abraham and his ancestors (e.g., the city of Ur), the land of the prophets (Babylon and Nineveh) and others, all of which stimulate the soldiers’ questions and facilitate the chaplains’ teaching opportunities.

“Many service members do not come from faith-based homes, so they ask tons and tons of spiritual questions about Islam and Christianity, and the chaplains can answer those questions,” Chaplain Carter explained. “We see a lot of openness and searching, and our combat mission makes the soldiers more open… more vulnerable.”

When I asked if combat hardens his soldiers to spiritual things, he explained, “Not as much as you might think.” He went on, “Nearly everyone shows reverence and respect at spiritual moments like prayer and memorial services, even though there is often a natural anger and confusion at God and at the situation. It is easy to ask, ‘Why, God?’ in a situation like this. But that does not mean that they are hardened.”

In our conversation, we talked about the distinctives of chaplain ministry (including working with other denominations’ and faiths’ chaplains), and how it contrasts to local church ministry. “Our number one priority is to provide for the free exercise of religion for all faiths amongst the troops. We don’t proselytize, as we have a great diversity of people amongst the service members.”

But then he went on to tell the story of one soldier who recently approached him, saying, “‘Sir, I’m here. I’m looking for the truth.’ I was able to share the love of Christ with him, and see him accept that love.”

“Many of the soldiers I speak with are not seeking a congregation or chapel,” he continues, “but they do seek spiritual conversations, say, in a dining facility or on patrol.

“A pastor ministering in a local church can assume that 80% of his congregation are active, growing Christians. But of the soldiers I see, either in the field or in chapel, probably 30-40% are Christian, 20-30% are inquisitive or seekers, and 10-20% are in crisis needing comfort in a place that there are few places to go for comfort.”

“Working with other denominations’ chaplains teaches everyone to collaborate without compromise,” he says. “I have gained a broadened perspective on the Kingdom of God. God is much bigger than our differences. Our work forces all of us to focus on the essentials of the faith… to bring down the barriers, working together for the greater good of the Kingdom of God.”

Chaplain Carter and I discussed more than I can cover in just one blog posting. So I will stop here for now and pick up again in my next post.

In the meantime, click here for a cool article with even cooler photos about a Easter 2008 sunrise service in Baghdad where Chaplain Carter preached.

Still to come: partnering with the indigenous Iraqi church and how American congregations can support our troops and the chaplains who minister to them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Disaster that no one Noticed

The more I look, the more convinced I am becoming that the world just missed that Haiti suffered four major hurricanes and tropical storms in a period of two weeks this past summer. There has been some news coverage of those crushing events trickling its way onto the American news media in recent months, but for the most part, no one seemed to notice.

Debbie Lucien of Hosean International Ministries (HIM) in Haiti confirmed that when I spoke with her yesterday that the world seemed to miss it. Speaking from Little Rock, where she has been on furlough for the past 10 days, she said, “Immediately after the storms, missionaries in Haiti began to spread the word as best we could of the suffering and damage, and a lot of our supporters responded, both individuals and churches.

“But now that I am in the U.S., when I talk about the storms, I realize that few people know what happened. When I talk about it, most people are completely unaware.

“There was just no mechanism for people to know more about what happened. I even sent photos to Fox News and said, ‘You need to report this!’ But they were all tied up with the campaigns and such. So unless churches had pre-existing contacts on the ground in Haiti, they really have not heard much.”

In case you missed it, too, here is what happened:

“The death toll from a string of hurricanes and tropical storms in Haiti has risen to nearly 800 people… Heavy rainfall from four major storms in August and September created fatal flooding and mudslides...

“Tropical Storm Fay caused flooding and significant damage when it hit the impoverished island nation. Heavy rains from Hurricane Gustav, considered a major hurricane, caused destructive mudslides after it made landfall in Haiti on August 26, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Tropical Storm Hanna passed over northern Haiti in early September, bringing heavy rain and flooding. Ike, another major hurricane, caused flooding and mudslides.” (Source: CNN)

And here is an article worth reading by actress and philanthropist Mia Farrow, who has traveled extensively as an ambassador for UNICEF.

Debbie Lucien explains that because the four storms all hit different areas of the small Caribbean nation, this disaster was more widespread than previous Haitian disasters. “My husband Caleb (who is a native Haitian in his 40s) says that this is the first time he has ever seen a disaster all across the country at once. Almost every community was drastically affected.” Caleb is above in the bright yellow shirt and below in the white shirt.

The worst hit was the area around the costal city Gonaïves [GUHN-aye-EVE]; with 250,000+ residents, it is the nation’s fourth largest city. When Hurricane Hanna arrived, Haiti was already rain-saturated by Fay and Gustav. “Hanna just sat above Haiti for three or four days,” recalls Debbie. “Caleb says that’s the most rain he’s ever seen in Haiti.”

“Five Rivers drain in Gonaïves,” she continues, “and whenever there is heavy flooding practically anywhere in Haiti, everything gets washed away in Gonaïves.”

Flooding and mudslides followed, with nearly the entire city flooded with water as high as 6 ½ feet deep. (Source: Wikipedia) That left the city covered with 98.8 million cubic feet of mud. (Source: United Nations)

Click here to see a video that Caleb Lucien shot of Gonaïves when he arrived there after the storms, and here for photos. Debbie tells me that they withheld the images that were especially difficult to see.

Debbie continues explaining about Gonaïves: “Independent missionaries were among the first responders to the hurricane victims. It’s not like it is here [in the U.S.]… there is no FEMA, no shelters set up, and in many cases the only protection that people have from the elements is tarps supported by sticks in the ground. And so the missionaries were (and still are) involved in food and shelter distribution, refugee evacuation, and doing whatever we can for the people there.

“At one point trip and, the American embassy asked us to make a food and water delivery to an American near Gonaïves who operates an orphanage of about 30 to 40 kids. Caleb was in Gonaives, and arranged supplies to be taken there, and they were very low and running out when the team got there. People can go for a while without food, but you can’t last long without water.”

The needs are still great in Gonaïves and across Haiti. The UN's World Food Program has still only raised 30.4% of its funding requirements for food, and 40,000 people are still living in shelters with no structural organization support. That means that the missionaries are still playing a major role in distributing aid to those in need.

Consider making a donation to support their work of caring for these people made in God’s image. Or think about making a fund appeal at your church. Maybe do a live telephone interview with a missionary in Haiti during your Sunday morning service. Or consider going (or leading a team) to help them in person for a bit. “Short term is really important,” affirms Debbie.

She concludes: “People who already had contacts in Haiti were able to make the quickest difference [after the hurricanes]… Encourage folks to find out how many leaders [of local ministries] are nationals, as they typically are more efficient in delivery of help. For foreigners/missionaries to be effective, we need to really have equal partnerships with the national church.”

Check out some of these really cool links of what God’s people are doing on the ground, all of which Debbie Lucien recommends as worth supporting or partnering with:

• Gifts can be made to HIM online via paypal. Debbie says, “Folks can give to ‘hurricane relief’ and we can get the funds and supplies there within days. Hours, if we are doing a transfer that day.

Here’s a really fun video of a Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) team making a mountaintop drop for the people in a remote Haitian village.

Missionary Flights International is a private non-profit service to Christian missions serving in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) is a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s starving children hungry in body and spirit.

MAP International (Medical Assistance Programs) promotes the total health of people living in the world's poorest communities by partnering in the provision of essential medicines, promotion of community health development and prevention and mitigation of disease, disaster and other health threats.

PS Thanks to Greg Van Schoyck of the Haitian American Friendship Foundation (HAFF) for helping me acquire contacts in Haiti. HAFF enables Haitians in the Central Plateau of Haiti through academic, vocational and theological education to enrich their culture socially, economically and spiritually, all to the glory of God. They are not doing hurricane releif, but they are still worth your support, prayers and partnership.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

InterVarsity at Hofstra University

With the third and final presidential debate coming up this week and with the debates continuing to be in the news, I went searching to see if the Body of Christ that will be close-by that event is preparing any notable response.

The debate is scheduled for October 15 at Hofstra University. With 12,600 total enrollment, Hofstra boasts that it is the largest private college on Long Island, sitting about 25 miles east of New York City.

From a faith perspective, Hostra is remarkably different from the previous debate host, Belmont University. (See my entry about that from October 9.) While Belmont is a Christian college that appears to go to great lengths to make itself a “Christian community,” Hofstra appears to have little interest in matters of faith or Christianity. While it claims 150 student clubs and organizations, I was only able to identify four with any faith connection and just two with Christian ties: the Protestant Community and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. (The other two were the Muslim Students Association and the Iranian Jewish Club.)

When I contacted InterVarsity for more information, I received a reply from Dan Brady, Area Director for InterVarsity on Long Island. Here is what he wrote:

“We are joining the campaign energy on campus that has come with the debate next week. All the clubs have been offered an opportunity to be a part of ‘Issue Alley’ where they can promote a campaign issue that connects to their club. We are doing an environmental theme called, ‘How green is your soul?’ It is an interactive survey with large graphics and short environmental statements/questions where participants are offered the chance to place a sticker on a laminated response area under the category/answer where they best connect. The sticker remains so subsequent students can see where the campus at large tends to respond.

“Towards the end of the survey, the idea/questions begin to connect with spiritual themes. ‘Does the poor care of our environment reflect a general selfishness in people today?’ ‘If our planet has a creator, how does He feel about our neglect/abuse of the environment He has entrusted to us?’

“There will be an opportunity to talk further about the Gospel if the student tends to be interested. Traditionally, we call these types of outreaches ‘proxe stations,’ as it is an actual standing station that is very visual and attracts students into dialogues about various campus topics. Pray for us and our ability to connect students to the Gospel and their Creator.

“The campus is pretty much in lock down mode. The only way we could have been involved is to go through the existing programming. Fortunately, they have invited clubs to participate so we jumped at the chance.

“Thanks for your interest.”

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ministry Surrounding the Presidential Debate

Belmont University made unprecedented national news this week when it hosted a presidential debate on October 7. With a student population of less than 5,000, most of us have never heard of Belmont, so I did a little research to discover if the Body of Christ did anything special on campus around the time of the debate.

I was surprised by what I discovered.

For starters, Belmont University is a Christian school “with a rich Baptist heritage.” Of course, there are plenty of post-secondary learning institutions that are Christian in name only, where campus life is no more faith-oriented than at a secular university.

But the more I read about Belmont, the more I was impressed. From its web site:

“Belmont University is a Christian community. The University faculty, administration and staff uphold Jesus as the Christ and as the measure of all things. Students encounter Christian values relevant to personal growth and spiritual maturity and are expected to commit themselves to high moral standards...

“Belmont University’s Board of Trustees is unanimously committed to broadening and deepening the Christian mission of the University… Our hope is that every student will see and believe that the love of Jesus Christ compels us to lead lives of disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith.”

Belmont has a fully staffed Office of University Ministries, which “exists to help students grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and to find practical ways to put their faith into action.” That includes offering traditional spiritual growth opportunities on campus, like discipleship, fellowship and worship, including 400+ students in weekly worship, prayer and Bible study. It also offers mission trips and Christian study abroad opportunities over each break.

I could go on, but you get the point. It sounds to me like a lot of people at Belmont take their faith seriously.

So back to the debates.

On a secular campus, I would expect student outreach ministries to, say, mobilize in order to expose members and guests of the university community to the claims of Jesus as part of the “debate buzz.” Perhaps something along the lines of proclaiming that regardless of who wins the debate tonight, you’ll still need Jesus in the morning.

But it looks like the Office of Spiritual Development felt like a discipleship approach would be more relevant at this Christian university than an evangelistic approach. In other words, they apparently asked themselves something like, “How can we use this big event as a faith-deepening experience for members of our community?”

For starters, the University held a vesper service on the Sunday afternoon prior to the debate with the University president, and with Rev. David Beckmann as the "guest homilist." (I didn’t think Baptists used that word…) In any case, Beckmann was ordained as a “missionary economist” by the Lutheran Church, and is President of Bread for the World, a citizens' anti-hunger movement which educates and influences public policies on hunger and poverty.

The Office of Spiritual Development also scheduled a high-powered series of speakers related to the debate. Honestly, I wish I could attend some of them. Or all of them.

Of course, my evangelical sensibilities tell me that I would not agree with everything in these lectures. But it was Bob Pike from Campus Crusade for Christ who taught me many years ago to read and study theology that I didn’t agree with in order to discover both the merits and faults of my own theology.

And my arrival into middle age taught me that I didn’t know nearly as much as I used to think I did, and that I usually learn things by listening to people with whom I don’t agree. So I’m sorry I won’t make it to any of the lectures.

For those of you around Nashville, here is the list of speakers, three of which are still pending:

CITIZENSHIP AND FAITH,” on September 3, by Dr. Tony Campolo, the notable and always colorful professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.

“THE AMERICAN EMPIRE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD,” September 17, by Dr. Stanley Hauer, who holds a joint appointment in Duke Law School and Duke Divinity School and was named "America’s Best Theologian" by Time magazine in 2001.

“THE MEDIA AND RELIGION,” on September 24, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the religion correspondent for National Public Radio, where she reports on the intersection of faith and politics, law, science, and culture.

“JESUS FOR PRESIDENT,” on October 1, by Shane Claiborne, the founder of The Simple Way. His new book, Jesus for President, was lauded by Publisher's Weekly in a starred review as a "must-read election-year book for Christian Americans. What should Christians do when allegiances to the state clash with personal faith?”

“FAITH-INFORMED POLITICAL SCIENCE,” on October 22, by two members of the University’s political science department who will explore issues of faith, politics and their role in a Christian university.

“HOW WOULD JESUS VOTE?” on October 29, by Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“THE NEW PRESIDENT AND THE POLITICS OF FAITH,” on November 5, by Melissa Rogers, founder and director of Wake Forest University's Center for Religion and Public Affairs and former executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Texas Chainsaw Missionaries Take on Hurricane Ike

It has been about 3½ weeks since the world’s most recent major hurricane – Hurricane Ike – struck land, making U.S. landfall at Galveston, Texas, on September 13 at 2:10 AM. Attacking as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph, it produced destruction along much of the Texas and Louisiana coast.

That was after is had reached havoc throughout the Caribbean, starting with Great Inagua Island and Grand Turk Island, where 80% of the buildings on Grand Turk were severely damaged or completely destroyed. (Source: Wikipedia) From there, it punished the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, leaving death and destruction everywhere and went.

I knew that the easiest place to find information about the response of God’s people would be in and around Galveston. Not surprisingly, most of the church web sites that I found in Galveston not had many updates since the storm… They obviously have had other priorities since then.

And as I searched for blogs about Hurricane Ike, I did not find much written about the storm’s aftermath.

But I knew I had found paydirt when I started reading Mark Lewis’s daily commentary on the work of the TouchGlobal Crisis Response ministry, a ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America. TouchGlobal Crisis Response goes worldwide to places in need and provides immediate relief and long-term strategies to restore communities and individuals affected by disasters.

I encourage you to take a few minutes sometime soon and go back to his Ike Day 1 entry and read forward from there. It is both troubling and encouraging.

Here are some highlights.

From Day 13:

“The adrenelin is gone. Debris piles are slowly starting to line the streets. The emotions tell on their faces. Relationships are strained. Families separated. Paychecks absent. Businesses ruined. MRE's old. Mosquitos ferocious. Days hot. Bodies tired…

“I was again out on the streets today asking God again for forklift to unload the 500 clean-out supply filled buckets we got delivered today… I met Greg, the haggared owner of a car parts store. He was trying to do what he could to save things out of his business, but there was little the water did not destroy. He did not say it, but I read the pain and saw the fear of the near future on his face... the ‘What do I do now and how am I going to pay the bills?’ look. I needed a fork lift, and he had one, but I knew that God had me stop in his parking lot for Greg, not for the fork lift. Greg was swallowing hard to keep back tears as we prayed for his future, for peace and God providing his daily bread…

“Come to Texas and make a difference in supporting these churches and their passionate desire to reach out to their communities after the hurricane.”

From Day 14:

“The outreach part of the team went to serve the family of a Galveston PD officer. He has been working long days and has not been able to help. This was the first day they could get things out of the house. The smell in the house was overpowering. Mold had grown several feet up the walls...

“Raynette, the wife, spoke with us at length about the emotion struggle she faced each day. She confided that she really could only think of a very short time frame into the future, like an hour or two. She had no idea where they where going to live. She teared up as she looked at the pile in the street and said, ‘That's all my life in that pile. Its 26 years of my kids' lives. All gone.’

“We prayed for her and her family before we left. The team will go back tomorrow to gut out the drywall.

“Part of the team also headed to clean out the contents of a church member, and ... spent a lot of time out talking with neighbors, and getting more requests for help in cleaning out homes. We also got a list of about a dozen police officer families and some elderly people who are desperate for help. We pray that volunteers will come to help more in this neighborhood.”

Pretty powerful stuff. And more good reading where that came from, as well as information on how to support that work in Texas.

Finally, here is a good article in the Galveston County Daily News about Mark and his work