Boyce Lawson, a Red Cross disaster responder, listened as Jimmie Hembrey talked about his brother who died when a tornado destroyed the Monette, Arkansas nursing home. It was the kind of story Boyce had heard many times, first as a pastor and now as a member of the American Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care team.
Jimmie is 82 and his brother, Golden, was 94. They grew up together, worked together and now he was planning a funeral for the brother who helped raise him. As he talked, a verbal portrait of Golden Wes Hembrey began to form.
“He went through the Korean War, went through Pork Chop Hill and didn’t get hurt anywhere,” Jimmie said. “He came home then got killed in a tornado.”
Jimmie talked about how his brother always was there to give him a helping hand whenever he needed it, how as a farm worker he could handle any chore given him.
“He was like a daddy to me,” he said.
Boyce, who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma and retired after being a pastor and chaplain for 25 years, said Jimmie’s recollections are a helpful part of the healing process.
“The first step of healing is talking about it. Sometimes there are tears, but there’s relief and most time joy. We don’t have to pray, but sometimes that’s what they want,” he said.
The unique role of the Disaster Spiritual Care volunteer is to assist people in drawing upon their own spiritual resources – values and faith – in the midst of their pain, regardless of their faith or belief tradition.
Because spirituality is very personal, volunteers must be able and willing to support someone from any faith or no faith without injecting their own beliefs.
“We’re facilitators of people’s beliefs, whatever that may be,” Boyce said. “We do what we can to bring comfort to people and a sense of peace and calm.”
Boyce does whatever is needed to help those in their time of bereavement, whether it’s working with a funeral home on a family’s behalf, planning a service and in some cases even presiding over a service.
“The bottom line is I’m here to serve the family in whatever capacity they need or want,” he said.
And while working with families in such times, that’s not all that Boyce and other DSC volunteers do when responding to a disaster.
Earlier in the day, Boyce was in nearby Trumann which also was hard hit by the same tornado. There, he first met with Pastor John Booker, whose Old Landmark Church hosted a Red Cross shelter.
The two men chatted and walked a couple blocks to help Red Cross volunteers distribute emergency supplies to those needing them.
Boyce said going door to door is a good way to get people to talk about what type of assistance they might need. Sometimes, a person might need help from another organization and Boyce can help them bridge that gap.
“Some people feel vulnerable and they don’t venture far from their front porch,” he said. “People on their own turf feel more comfortable talking about their situation.”
At one stop, Boyce chatted with Danny Harper and as they talked they decided to pray. Standing on the sidewalk praying, the others nearby paused what they were doing and bowed their heads.
“I believe in the power of prayer and it made me feel good. It gave me hope,” Danny said.
Boyce next went to the Trumann Sports Complex field house that was serving as a distribution center for clothing and various supplies for those impacted.
He talked to a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain to compare notes on where the needs were in town and later in the field house chatted with those who wanted to talk about what happened.
At the end of the day, Boyce explained why he does this.
“The desire to help people never leaves you,” he said.