After a disaster everyone derives strength from different sources. For many that means drawing upon spiritual resources, their values and faith in the midst of pain. Western Correctional Institution Chaplain Paul Demers recently traveled from Cumberland to Moore, Oklahoma with the American Red Cross Spiritual Care Response Team to help the victims of the massive tornado that destroyed much of that town.
Once on the ground Demers joined relief workers from around the country at a high school gymnasium that served as a community service center. Tornado victims came there to connect with the Red Cross, FEMA, Goodwill and other agencies for help. Every day Demers met with hundreds of Oklahoma residents who were trying to rebuild their lives. He often spent several hours talking and counseling the residents but mostly he listened.
“People would tell me ‘I have hope. I’m resilient. I will get through this,’” Demers relates.
But most people he talked to were battling fatigue or were traumatized by the events. He spoke with many who were angry something like this could happen to them and destroy their homes, their livelihoods and even take lives. He went on condolence visits to offer sympathy and support to those who lost loved ones.
“[To be able to spend time with people in need] is the gift of my vocation,” he says.
Demers even witnessed a few miracles along the way. One couple’s home was destroyed by the tornado and they lost everything. Or so they thought.
“They found her engagement ring while sifting through the rubble six weeks after the storm. They took that as a spiritual sign,” Demers says.
The Red Cross Spiritual Care Team works closely with the Disaster Mental Health staff to identify and support people after a tragedy. Everyone on the Spiritual Care Team is a board-certified chaplain.
Demers says he was impressed with the organization and team work amongst agencies in the midst of what could have been chaos.
“I’m so proud of the Red Cross,” Demers says. “We’re not in this alone.”
The American Red Cross continues providing food, shelter, relief items, health services, emotional and spiritual comfort as people pick up the pieces after the devastating Oklahoma tornadoes that hit several communities in May. We are also hard at work helping victims of the Colorado wildfires and hundreds of other disasters around the country including house fires in your neighborhood. Thank you for your continued support.