Today I worked the switchboard at the church I work for. The phone rang off the hook ALL day long as I fielded calls from people who genuinely want to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They were not my problem. Dealing with compassionate, giving people is not draining, even if the calls are pouring in faster than I can answer them.
The calls I received from people who wished to vent about various things that have gone wrong during the aftermath of the devastation in New Orleans and the people who were just generally annoying… those calls wore me out today. I will give you a sampling of some of the calls I received.
CALL NUMBER ONE: THE MAN AFRAID OF THE “BUREAUCRACY.”
Caller: We’re from out of state and we want to know how we can help.
Me: You can donate money to the Red Cross or Salvation Army or volunteer at the nearest chapters of those organizations.
Caller: Yes, but we prefer to volunteer outside the bureaucracy.
Me: What do you mean by that sir?
Caller: Well, we don’t want to get caught up in the political struggle of the bureaucracy. We want to help people… directly.
Me: Then you would travel here?
Caller: Are you a black church?
Huh?! And that has to do with…
Me: Not particularly.
Caller: Oh, because we figured the black churches would be the most involved (I assumed he was implying that the black churches would be most involved because most of the evacuees in the Astrodome are of the same race… because I can’t think of any other ignorant reason to say something like that).
At this point I took a deep breath and prayed that God would keep me from losing my job if I said what was going through my mind.
Me: Sir, all churches, regardless of race or denomination, are directly involved in the relief efforts here, but you should also know that for the most part the Red Cross is in charge of the relief efforts at the Astrodome and the churches, regardless of race or denomination, are working with the Red Cross.
Caller: Oh. Ok.
Sadly, there’s more.
I had people call from all over the country, obviously parked in front of their tv’s viewing the devastation from far, far away. This is a sampling of what was said to me.
CALL NUMBER TWO: LADY, PLEASE TURN OFF THE TV
Caller: I am in Chicago. I am watching CNN. Why isn’t anyone from your church feeding the people outside the Astrodome? (At one point this morning, 11,000 people were waiting outside waiting for placement).
Me: Because, Ma’am, the Red Cross is in charge and they have not asked us, as an organization, to do so.
Caller: Where are the Baptist Men? (Denominational Organization that works with the Red Cross to feed people during disasters and has been doing so for years). I’m ashamed to be a Baptist!
Me: Ma’am, the Men’s organization has been in Louisiana since early this week feeding people there and just because the news isn’t talking about it and they are showing it on tv, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Caller: Oh. Well…
And, as I am about ready to explode, wishing I could slap this woman, I said: So what is your local Red Cross or Baptist organization doing to help with the disaster?
Caller: Uh…. I guess I should find out.
My point exactly.
CALL NUMBER THREE: THERE’S PROBABLY A GOOD REASON BEHIND IT
I received calls from Idaho, Nebraska and Minnesota (who knew about the church specifically) with various complaints about the church not being a shelter during such a difficult time. I said, “The Red Cross has not activated us at this time,” more than I needed to today.
Caller: Why aren’t you a shelter?
Me: The Red Cross has strict guidelines about what buildings pass for shelters and we are way down the list.
Caller: But you have that big gym…
Me: Yes, and it has windows in the roof, and per Red Cross guidelines, shelters must be set up in places with no windows. Our church, unfortunately for this situation, is covered in windows. We also have a school and daycare facility and they fill most of our available rooms during the day. We have few rooms approved for a shelter and I’m certain we are far down the list as possible shelters. Did you want anything else?
And, the best example I can think of that just really made me the angriest was this call:
CALL NUMBER FOUR: HITTING A HURTING INDIVIDUAL OVER THE HEAD WITH THE BIBLE BEFORE YOU FEED HIM MAY RESULT IN YOUR OWN DEATH
Caller: So, what evangelistic efforts are going on in the Astrodome today? Why isn’t anyone down there telling people about Jesus?!
Me: Well, Ma’am, a hungry man doesn’t hear anything but his stomach growling, nor does a thirsty man hear anything but the sound of his raspy throat.
Me: Ma’am, I’m certain that the spiritual needs of these people will be tended to at some point, but the purpose of the shelter is to meet their most basic needs. Food. Water. Clothes. Hot shower. Sleep. I would assume that after those needs have been met, the people will be more open to evangelistic efforts.
Caller: Oh. I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way.
God help me, I made it through the day without losing my mind… and this is only the tip of the iceberg of what I heard today. Fortunately, more sane, loving, compassionate people called than the ignorant people.
I am in Houston. Let me tell you what is going on. BASIC needs are being met, albeit much slower than needed. Money is needed. Clothes are needed. Hands/Volunteers are needed. Patience is needed. Leave your criticism where it belongs (in your head) and DO something instead… or shut up and write a check to the bureaucracy that can help people the most.
There. My rant is finished.