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Disaster survivors renew faith

BY HEATHER MOYER | Baltimore, MD | July 16, 2000

"It's pretty common, when you face what nature can do, when you see the fury of a storm, you come to recognize how dependent you are on God," said the Rev. Jim Lambeth

about the survivors of Hurricane Floyd in his area.

Lambeth is the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Franklin, VA -- one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Floyd. During pastoral counseling, he was surprised at how well

people reacted to the disaster. "We got very little of the question 'why did God let this happen?' " Lambeth said of those he's counseled. "Most people have said 'God blessed me

through this.' "

Lambeth said many people especially need counseling long after the disaster hits, when frustration and anger are high. "The biggest thing people tell me when they've been

filling out all the forms and paperwork is that they don't feel like anyone hears what they're saying," he said. Lambeth's words on the survivors of disasters are similar to those of

many pastors and volunteer workers who've helped their congregations and communities get through the worst.

"I didn't see any negative response (about church and faith) after the tornadoes," said Whitney Singleton, executive director of the Interfaith Disaster Recovery Team in Arkansas'

Pulaski and Saline counties. "Many said it was a blessing because it brought so many people together." Singleton said on the first anniversary after the most recent tornado, the

community held a service of prayer and healing at a church that had been in the tornado's path of destruction. "Many stood up and cried and told of how their lives had changed,

some said they had completely turned around and started going to church again," she said.

"One would expect bitterness and hatred (after a disaster), but these people have come a long way and responded to it so well." Singleton said the survivors had an attitude that if

they work together, more will get done. "It was very contagious," she said. "I don't think I'd have as much patience without (their example), these survivors have taught me a

lot."

From flooding in southwest Texas over two years ago, another pastor says most survivors eventually saw that disaster as a learning experience. "I would meet with them in their

homes as they were cleaning up, and once people talked it through, they realized you can't blame it on God," said the Rev. Bill Lang, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church. "We're the

ones who built our houses on floodplains and laid down concrete everywhere -- the water has to go somewhere. All of us are responsible."

Lang said many people found help at the dinners his church set up during the cleanup. "We let the survivors talk and share their stories. That's when they found out they're all in

the same boat and were able to help each other out," said Lang. "We agreed with the notion that the best help for yourself is to reach out to others."

Negative reactions were something Lang did not see in his church. He had been warned that divorces, depression, and even suicide were common after disasters. "But our

congregation was blessed because we didn't see that," he said. "It was beautiful to see these people respond. Everything brought us together." Lang has also noticed some people

have started coming back to church after the outpouring of help from the church and their neighbors. "People suddenly realized their values and priorities had been misplaced,"

he said, "Many missed (church), the community, and the fellowship."

Shootings bring church support to the forefront as well. When a gunman went on a shooting rampage outside of Pittsburgh back in March, the Covenant Church of Pittsburgh

opened its doors for support. The church is located right by the McDonald's where two people were shot, and that put the it even closer to those who needed it." We ministered

to many from McDonald's," said Pastor Iris Goshay. "And many have come back to visit us. Many families of those involved in the shooting came to our church because we

helped."

Goshay said while no one in the church was directly involved in the shootings, the congregation worked with other local churches to organize prayer marches and rallies. "We

wanted to help cleanse the community and those folks who were scarred," said Goshay. Goshay added that even the McDonald's Corporation sent its thanks along with a

donation.


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