How do I give you, brothers and sisters, a picture of the ongoing disaster that has engulfed us in Minot, North Dakota?
It is on a child’s drawing received during a “Tell Me Your Flood Story” time with children at Our Redeemer’s three weeks after the flood, while water still stood five feet deep in many basements, and houses bore the “muck-line” five or six feet up on the outside walls. One drawing’s caption: “Sharks are in the house.” Another drawing of jagged blue and brown lines told the story, “A wave ate up our house.”
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Tom (not his real name) said, with years of frustration and fears pouring out in voice and tears, “When the sirens sounded, it seemed I was transported back to the flood of 1969 and being a nine-year old, filled with apprehension when my uncle came in from the farm with his grain truck and said we’d have to load what we could real fast.” Tom began goofing around with his brother, then fighting and chasing. His brother went to the garage and as Tom tried to climb in through a partially opened heavy garage door, it slammed on his fingers, crushing the ends on both hands. He was worthless to help move and save things. Tom spoke with choking emotion, “All my life I’ve felt I failed my family when I should have been doing something. I’m reliving that failure and pain and guilt again now and I want to run away. The encouragement when Shawn and Steve came to my house and just began ripping out moldy paneling and sheet rock was huge. I now realize God wants me to heal and to learn to help. I want this flood of 2011 to be a place of healing and a time of redemption for me.”
The facts are tough enough:
4000 or so homes in the Minot area in the water.
Over 90 families from Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Brethren Church and School had homes in the flood waters.
After fighting the flood for weeks, then being told we made it, the announcement came that 7 to 10 feet of water was coming out of Canada – they had to open the floodgates of the dams that were supposed to protect us.
Uncertainty abounds as to buy-outs, green zones, and flood plain, with freeze-up and snow only 12 weeks away.
The psychological, emotional, physical and relational strains get to the breaking point in a time like this. Pastors and staff are at risk. I was told that 75% of the pastors from churches in this kind of a disaster will leave within a year.
At a recent meeting of major agencies like the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God national workers, and many others, it was said that we have 80-100 requests for help on lists, but no workers. It was asked again and again, “Where are the volunteers?” “Why has the national media forgotten us just when we need the most help?” There were no answers, only the weight of silence at the enormity of the task.
Did God ordain the flood? How much was human error? Who can people blame? Many families are pulling together, but some are elderly, alone and tired. Some are young couples in a new community without support networks. Their lives paint the real, ongoing truth right now in the Minot area – people the national media has forgotten, looking for a little help and with it, hope. We so earnestly desire Christ’s body to be there – caring, touching, reaching out.
There are many stories of hope, of helping and of real community. People who previously had not conversed with neighbors in years were now sharing in tasks and talking daily! The new openness to prayer and new spirit of giving, sharing and receiving is an evidence of spiritual renewal. God is providing in and through people of gospel compassion.
In the churches, one sees those who are servants and those who are not. One sees the best of people and the worst of people. Volunteers have stepped up to offer time to coordinate, supervise, go again and again into the muck and stench of backed-up sewer waters, offering Jesus’ love, one shovel, one prayer, one wheel-barrow at a time. This gives hope, and one begins to sense what real love costs, what it will give and whom it will serve.
What can you do? Come see for yourself! Pictures and stories cannot convey the weight of this flood. Come and listen, look, smell the unique odor of floodwater in homes for four weeks with 80-90 degree temperatures. Come and participate in the pain and struggle of brothers and sisters unable, in spite of their best efforts, to save their homes and life’s collection of tools, pictures and keepsakes. Come with heart and hands open to help! Minot and Our Redeemer’s are in need of workers, listeners, prayers, people to deliver drinks, give rides, answer phone calls, cook meals, and tear out ruined carpeting, sheet-rock and siding so that homes can dry out.
Hear the voice of Elaine Soberg, a white-haired widow, as she clutches a dozen-odd photos of her once beautiful little home, her love of flower beds and neatness just jumping out of the photos. “This is where my son and I lived for many years,” Elaine recalls, her voice with an echo-like tone. “Look at those beautiful flowers, the back yard – all gone, all ruined and dead now.” I tried to console her, to remind her that the memories were real too, but she had not yet had the time of grieving due her. Her next words made my weariness and numbness of fighting the flood and mobilizing and giving seem like I was a whiner. She is wondering who will help her.
I realized again that there was no one who could help Elaine and dozens and dozens of others like her in time to stop the mold, in time to give hope in these few brief weeks of opportunity, in time for the cold, unless they would lay aside their normal tasks to do something extra-ordinary, something non-logical and against the routines we all love so much.
Paul wrote asking Timothy to bring his cloak and to come soon, knowing that winter was approaching (2 Timothy 4:9-13). Paul says he has few that he can count on. Demas is in love with this present world and others will not come (want to be at the lake!). If you are thinking of coming to Minot, stop thinking and come!
Come now, before winter.
Rev. Rod Spidahl is senior pastor of Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Brethren Church, Minot, ND.