Last December, I stood next to a woman looking with sad eyes at the burned out remains of a building. “Did you live here?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. She then went on to tell me about how she had escaped the fires that overwhelmed the town of Gatlinburg. She had left her pets behind, fleeing for her life.
I told her that I was a Pastor and that I would like to pray with her.
After the prayer she asked me, “Since you’re a Pastor, can you tell me, was God punishing me by taking away my pets because I left them behind?”
I assured her that though we all had sins, God had shown His love for us by sending his Son to die on the cross, and that if we believed in Him, we could be certain that all of our sins were forgiven and that we stood before God as if we had done everything right. She said that she believed, and I assured her of God’s love for her, even though times were tough right now.
I prayed with her again. I gave her my card. I left, and she left. I was gratified a few weeks later to get a text from her. “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. It really helped.”
On November 23, 2016, fires worked their way down the mountains to the town of Gatlinburg and destroyed 2400 buildings, killed 14, and left thousands displaced. It was a disaster like I had never experienced before.
The next few days were filled with making sure our members were alright, crying with people, watching the news to get updates, and trying to figure out what to do.
Over the next few months, I had a lot of opportunities to work with and talk to people affected by the fires. One was the woman I mentioned in the opening story.
As I watch another disaster unfold in South Texas, my mind has gone back to those days in Gatlinburg, and tears have returned to my eyes as I think of the trauma of them. It’s still hard to believe.
I think of Pastors who will be confronting this disaster in Texas. I think of other Pastors who will experience similar disasters. To them, I’d like to offer here a few lessons I learned from living through disaster.
1. Call your congregation together for prayer and worship. The fires were Monday. We had a worship service on Wednesday. The fires on everyone’s mind. We needed to give ourselves a proper outlet for the horror we had just witnessed.
2. Drop what you’re doing and make the disaster a priority. The fires gave me opportunities to connect with people I never would have been able to connect with. The whole experience was very difficult, but it provided some amazing opportunities to experience the love of Christ given and received. Continue reading “A Pastor’s Response to Disaster”