Disaster relief volunteer recounts time in Louisiana

Doug ParkinThe magnitude of the property damage in Louisiana's flooding disaster is incredible. The magnitude of the emotional damage is incalculable.

And for disaster relief volunteers, it is hard to describe the emotions of walking into a home and, after performing necessary demolition of flood-damaged flooring and walls, leaving it actually looking worse than when we started.

I have just returned from four days in south Louisiana helping lead teams of teenagers and adults in initial recovery support to flooded-out homeowners.

We worked on eight homes, among the efforts at 50 homes being coordinated by First Baptist Church in Ponchatoula, La., where my son Robert is the youth minister. After salvaging what possessions we could for homeowners, we then worked to preserve and prepare their homes for rebuilding.

The flood survivors seemed numb with the realization of the damage and of the daunting challenges they will have to overcome to rebuild their homes and their lives. While some had experienced this type of flooding before, many never had anticipated this danger to their homes.

Each home's circumstance was different. Water reached different levels; different building materials required different demolition approaches; in some houses we worked while standing in remaining water while other houses were relatively dry.

There is nothing fun about hauling the destroyed home furnishings and personal possessions out to a debris pile by the street. Nothing is satisfying about revealing the clutter and hidden trash in a family's home. No pleasure is found in cutting up carpet, pulling up flooring, ripping out Sheetrock handful by handful, or tearing out insulation.

These tasks, however, are absolutely necessary. Every nook and cranny of the home and every concealed pocket of moisture must be opened up, cleaned out, air-dried and treated against present or future growth of toxic black mold. The very bones of the building must be revealed and cleaned before repairs are begun.

For all of us, whether flood survivor, disaster relief volunteer or anyone anywhere, much in this disaster experience that can be related to how we live our lives.

While knick-knacks are showcased on our bookcases and mantles, irreplaceable photo albums and important papers are relegated to bottom shelves. We sometimes elevate insignificant aspects of our lives and neglect the true treasures upon which we should be focused. As one inch of flooding can cause damage up to two feet or more above the water line, if we do not carefully consider the true value of personal relationships and of our relationship to Christ, we risk allowing seemingly small matters to invade our lives, destroy these relationships and overwhelm our faith.

Our families and friends can become the debris tossed to the street and our faith can become as weakened as wet Sheetrock. The only way to properly recover is to clear away the worthless clutter in which we once placed value, strip away the walls behind which we hide our secrets, purge the pride that is the black mold of our lives, and purify our lives by repentance before God and humility before others.

Take this opportunity now to look around the "house" of your life. Ensure that you properly value the true treasures of your life and elevate them to the position of importance they deserve. If you find yourself repeatedly inundated by life, perhaps you need to review the foundation upon which you have built.

If you have not yet experienced unexpected devastation, now is the time to prepare. Lift up and properly position the important relationships and aspects of your life, just as you would raise your home above a known flood line. Build up your relationship with God and your dependence upon Christ, just as you would build up sandbags against rising waters. Only then can you be assured that your life's "house" can withstand coming storms.

Doug Parkin is a pharmacist in Jackson, Miss., and a member of First Baptist Church.

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