On December 10, 2017, I deployed for two weeks to the Red Cross Thomas Fire Headquarters in the City of Ventura as the Disaster Spiritual Care (DSC) Lead. The mission of Red Cross DSC in the Thomas Fire event was to provide emotional and spiritual care to event volunteers and to families and individuals impacted by the Thomas Fire. In addition, DSC offered support to local congregational leadership who were assisting in the disaster response and/or had congregants whose homes were damaged or completely destroyed by the fire.
As I had when I deployed with the Red Cross to North Carolina (Hurricane Matthew), I again turned to ICTG for research-based spiritual and emotional disaster care resources. Because of ICTG, I was able to provide congregational leaders in and around the City of Ventura with the ICTG summary guide for pastoral response to local collective trauma, and the Phases of Collective Trauma Response article as well as the other ICTG resources. Doing so was a tangible means of engaging and providing encouragement and support to local congregational leadership who will remain long after major disaster response organizations have left.
One of the most rewarding but challenging roles as a DSC volunteer was walking the burn-area streets and meeting with families and individuals who had just returned to find their homes completely destroyed or damaged. These face-to-face encounters remind me to never underestimate the power of a simple gesture of kindness and encouragement to a fellow human being whose life has been turned up-side-down by a disaster. It is the individual stories of despair moving to hope that keep me choosing to engage as a volunteer:
• It is the little boy sitting in a car in front of the ash pile that was once his home who upon receiving a “Mickey Mouse” doll from a Red Cross volunteer speaks for the first time in four days to the tearful relief of his custodial grandparents.
• It is the woman who with the help of volunteers searches through the ashes and debris of her former home and finds the ceramic urn with her late husband’s remains still intact when nothing else is has survived.
• It is the self-sufficient couple who when offered help declines but still tearfully says thank you for the offer.
• It is the little boy who brings one of his Christmas gifts to a shelter to give to another child who is crying because he no longer has a home where Santa can visit.
I continue to volunteer because doing so is an expression of thanks to God for His gift of His Son to me and all mankind so that we may have life as He intended. And I continue to serve knowing that I have an organization like ICTG and its supporters who serve as God’s instrument so that myself and others can claim the promise of Isaiah 40:31 and have the tools to serve effectively when disaster strikes.
Grateful for the opportunity to serve,
Chaplain – Lompoc Police and Fire.
Disaster Services Volunteer:
American Red Cross, VOAD, CERT, Prepare2Care.Net.