Volunteers in Louisiana are Many Parts but One Body

October 20, 2016 • United States
U.S. disaster relief Louisiana
Jennifer Miller (far left) and her team of volunteers with Louisiana homeowner Bethany. More than 100,000 homes throughout 20 parishes across south Louisiana were affected by the August flooding.

A volunteer who served in Lafayette after deadly flooding shares about her experience

Jennifer Miller volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse U.S. Disaster Relief during cleanup efforts in Lafayette, Louisiana.

“To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will become untreatable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves 

At 7:40 a.m. on a Tuesday, I felt my heart’s vulnerability as I clasped hands for the last pray out time in a tightly knit circle with Suzanne, a Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain from California, and Julietta, a beautiful, young, traveling nurse turned full-time office manager volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse. Tears streamed down my face as I encountered the heartbreak that comes with leaving new friends behind and the joy of new beginnings unfolding amidst times of uncertainty. I have never been great at goodbyes. They are like litmus tests gauging the quality of an experience. The deeper the connections and the more profound the interaction with others, the harder the goodbye. This was no easy goodbye.

Volunteers in Louisiana

Jennifer (right) and a team member hard at work in Lafayette.

I landed overwhelmed with gratitude, quieted by exhaustion, and spiritually renewed as I returned to life back home, life before witnessing the daily routines in an ongoing disaster area affecting more than 100,000 southern Louisiana residents. Undoubtedly, the experience varies from person to person; however, I believe one thing remains the same for each of us involved, and it’s best summarized by the concise, poignant words of C.S. Lewis:

“You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.”

After several hours in my favorite local coffee shop this morning unpacking my thoughts and fond memories, I returned home and retreated to the comfort and safety of my bedroom, shades pulled, bulldog and pug snoring on the dry floor beside me, with spiral notebooks, hard covered journals, colored index cards, an open student Bible, highlighters, and all sorts of writing tools with which I attempt to catch passing thoughts and release to paper. I paused to give praise, by way of tears of gladness, to the One who authored this experience. I humbly realized that I didn’t decide to go to Louisiana; God chose Louisiana to be a healing ground for me and others who joined in the relief efforts. God’s plans are immensely wider, and His love runs profoundly deeper than our human minds will ever comprehend. He chose this experience for each of us, knowing how to satisfy the longings of our souls. This distinction keeps me in awe and wonder of our Maker.

Spiritual Gifts

Having spent several days as a passenger in the backseat of Drew and Pat Alexander’s Subaru Outback to and from work sites each day, I gained a unique vantage point for witnessing their genuine love for each other as well as their deeply rooted passion for serving people in disaster situations. Drew serves as pastor of Folcroft Union Church in addition to his volunteer work as chaplain of the local police and fire departments in Folcroft, Pennsylvania. He and Pat, his amazingly strong and inspiring wife of 26 years, respond to both Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse deployments, and in the late 90s, they spent two years overseeing boarding school children of missionaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. I asked them what drives their volunteerism.

“I believe we were given the gift of service,” Drew said. “Talents can frustrate, but [using] gifts is refilling. When we are not using our gifts, we feel stifled, stuck, and tend to stagnate.” 

Debris and damaged furniture

Some homeowners lost nearly all their furniture and personal belongings in the flood.

One day, as we returned back to our home away from home, Crossroads Church—the welcoming lighthouse location providing long-term shelter and much appreciated provisions for several dozens of overnight volunteers—I contemplated the masterful design of this Samaritan’s Purse team and all the gifts it had to offer to residents of Louisiana and to each other.

There were no coincidences on this trip.

God masterfully and purposefully painted the smallest details into this Lafayette team canvas with variegated brush strokes, each volunteer a vivid prism of color combined to form a rainbow palette of spiritual gifts to share:

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12, NKJV).

I likened the rest of this passage to the joint effort of volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse. Today I jotted down a list of all the extraordinarily talented volunteers who made the experience possible, as well as the number of things that happened behind the scenes to keep such a large, long-term disaster relief operation running smoothly.

While the list below isn’t exhaustive, it helps form a mental picture to accompany the “many parts, all one body” illustration. Furthermore, it is intended to thank all of those who shared, knowingly or unknowingly, their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire group.

Consider the number of:

Miles flown and driven; prayer circles; Bibles signed and gifted; meals prepared, served, and shared; dishes washed; alarms going off at 3 a.m.; hugs and smiles to one another and to homeowners; hands hammering, pulling, lifting; sweat beads and tears shed; dirty orange T-shirts washed each day; devotions and nightly debriefings; welcome visits, new orientation videos, and facilities tours; squeegeed shower stall walls, lights out at 10, and after-hour conversations in the hallways outside the sleeping quarters; times your body wanted you to rest but your heart begged you to join one more conversations and stay up just one more hour; soaked drywall fragments removed, corners meticulously brushed and scraped, and mold-infested areas sprayed; personal belongings carried to the curb; lives intersected, laughs shared, and songs sung; stories told, pasts untold, hurts brought into the light, lives redeemed; false beliefs shattered, emotional and physical walls surrendered; times strangers became friends; encouragements that helped you make it through another day after a difficult night of sleep; opportunities to share, help, give, and learn; times we had to love our neighbor as ourselves and stand as living testimonies; times we had the chance to respond to the Gospel’s call to action

Above all this, the number of times we humbly, without merit, received God’s grace and mercy, and felt His unending love fill our lungs with every breath.

Thank you God, for providing this gift to us all.

Our Lafayette response has ended, but our other site in East Baton Rouge is still accepting volunteers.