I wrote a news story for Christianity Today this week on “The Crucial Role of the ‘Faith-Based FEMA’ After Florence.”
The piece is actually an update of an article I first reported for CT back in 2013 after a killer tornado struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.
In both cases, I focused on an umbrella group of 65 faith-based agencies and secular charities called the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, known as National VOAD. As USA Today noted in a story highlighted here at GetReligion last year, about 75 percent of those groups are faith-based. They include a number of Christian groups, from Catholic Charities to Samaritan’s Purse, as well as Tzu Chi (Buddhist), ICNA Relief USA (Islamic), the Jewish Federation of North America and others.
Suffice it to say that faith-based disaster relief is an important story, as always, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
So I was pleased to see this headline — “In the Carolinas, Churches Provide Spiritual Refuge and Shelter From the Storm” — in the New York Times on Monday.
I mentioned that front-page report briefly in the Monday Mix roundup of weekend news, but I wanted to offer a bit more commentary on it.
The lede was fantastic:
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Services at Manna Church, a big nondenominational congregation on the west side of town, began at 9 a.m. with announcements.
“We’ve got 10 port-a-potties.”
“They’re setting up showers in the back.”
Pastor Michael Fletcher, standing at the entrance, welcomed the pilgrims arriving out of the pounding rain: A man with his belongings gathered in a soaked towel on his back. A grandmother fleeing her probably flood-doomed house, along with her daughter and five young children.
The largest church in Fayetteville had become the city’s eighth official storm shelter.
As Sunday dawned grimly in the Carolinas, the heavens opened for the fifth straight day, swelling rivers past record-breaking levels and drenching already half-drowned towns. But, it being Sunday, the congregations were still at work in one of the most church-steeped parts of the country, even if many religious services were canceled because of flooded sanctuaries, dangerous roads and scattered parishioners.
From the first moments of the rolling disaster of Florence, there has been no sharp divide separating the official responders, the victims and the houses of faith.
Keep reading, and the Times does a really nice job of letting people of faith explain — in their own words — why they feel compelled to help after Florence.
For example, here:
As the first harsh bands of rain began lashing Greenville, N.C., Asif Daher, 40, stood at the counter of his restaurant, Bateeni Mediterranean Grill, one of the few places in town that were still open. Food was free for anyone helping out with the hurricane, said Mr. Daher, a Palestinian immigrant, because the Quran defines the righteous as those “who give charity out of their cherished wealth to relatives, orphans, the poor, needy travelers, beggars,” and the like.
“It’s part of our religion to help wherever we are,” he said. There was a stack of Qurans in the corner, and a sign offering them for free as well.
As the storm moved over the central Carolinas, roughly 60 people gathered for a Saturday night dinner of chicken bog, sweet potatoes and green beans at the New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence, S.C.
“We are a church of action,” said Marcus Simmons, who oversees the evangelism ministry at the church, which had opened its recreation center as a shelter. “We believe that, unless we do it and show you that we mean what we said, then how can we even hold ourselves or hold you accountable?”
Even before Florence arrived, Religion News Service’s Yonat Shimron was on top of the faith-based disaster relief angle:
DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) — On top of all the state and federal disaster relief groups readying for Hurricane Florence as it barrels toward North and South Carolina are a group of expert helpers: the faith teams.
The biggest of these, North Carolina Baptists on Mission and the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, have made a name for themselves during previous hurricanes and other natural disasters, feeding people, clearing debris, gutting uninhabitable homes and rebuilding them from stud to kitchen cabinet.
On Wednesday (Sept. 12), they were back at it — not yet delivering help, but strategizing over how best to deploy their volunteer armies and equipment.
What other coverage — good and bad — have you noticed concerning faith and Florence? By all means, share links in the comments or tweet us at @GetReligion.