A Love More Powerful Than a Hurricane!
When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005, they caused catastrophic damage and much loss of life. The victims included thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Directed by the United States branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, disaster relief committees swung into operation. In Louisiana, they set up 13 relief centers, 9 warehouses, and 4 fuel depots. Their field of operation covered 32,000 square miles [80,000 km2]. Nearly 17,000 Witness volunteers from all parts of the United States and from 13 other lands poured in to help with emergency aid and reconstruction. The results showed that the forces of nature are no match for Christian love.—1 Corinthians 13:1-8.
The volunteers repaired more than 5,600 homes of fellow believers and 90 Kingdom Halls, the meeting places of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These figures represent virtually all such buildings that were damaged. In harmony with Galatians 6:10, which urges Christians to “work what is good toward all,” Jehovah’s Witnesses assisted a number of nonbelievers as well.
SHARING in the relief work meant personal sacrifice; nevertheless, the rewards were many. Consider the comments of seven Witnesses who had oversight of various aspects of the work.
“A Highlight of My Life”
Robert: Serving on a disaster relief committee has been a highlight of my life. At 67 years of age, I am the oldest member of the committee. I served with an army of volunteers that included many exceptional young, spiritually-minded Witnesses. It is so encouraging to see the young displaying self-sacrificing love for Jehovah and for fellow Christians!
My wife, Veronica, has been an excellent helper. So that we could make ourselves available, she supported my decision to give up a job I had enjoyed for over 40 years. We now work one night a week cleaning offices. We have learned to get by on less and enjoy leading a simplified life. The spiritual environment in which we work has given us a deeper appreciation of what it means to put God’s Kingdom first in life. (Matthew 6:33) Repeatedly, we have seen that Jehovah takes good care of his people.
Frank: I serve as overseer of the food service department at the Baton Rouge relief center. Initially, the task of feeding the volunteers meant working between 10 and 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The blessings, though, were many, including seeing firsthand the power of Christian love.
Many volunteers who helped in food service for a week or so asked to return, and by means of postcards and phone calls, some expressed their heartfelt gratitude for the privilege of helping out. My wife, Veronica, and I have truly been touched by their spirit of self-sacrifice.
Goose Bumps on His Arms
Gregory: My wife, Kathy, and I sold our home in Las Vegas, Nevada, and bought a light pickup truck as well as a trailer, which has become our home. Simplifying our lives has enabled us to share in the relief work in Louisiana for over two years. More than at any other time in our life, we are learning firsthand the truth of the words found in the Bible at Malachi 3:10: “‘Test me out, please, . . .’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘[and see] whether I shall not open to you people the floodgates of the heavens and actually empty out upon you a blessing until there is no more want.’”
It often makes us smile to ourselves when people say, “Oh, that is so self-sacrificing!” Thirty years ago, Kathy and I wanted to serve at the United States branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we had children to raise. Relief work has satisfied our desire to do more in God’s service. Another privilege has been to work closely with fellow Witnesses, some of whom are very talented. For example, one of our cooks had been a chef in a fine restaurant, and another had cooked for two U.S. presidents.
For many volunteers, disaster-relief work has been a life-changing experience. One 57-year-old had goose bumps as he described his work with hurricane victims. Even some Witnesses who were unable to come have been a source of encouragement. For example, two volunteers who do mold remediation presented us with a banner made and signed by everyone—including children—in three congregations in their home state of Nebraska.
‘We Have Seen God Care for Damaged Souls’
Wendell: The day after Katrina struck, I received an invitation from the United States branch to assess the damage to Kingdom Halls and homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Louisiana and Mississippi. Thus began what has become part assignment and part personal journey. Having lived for 32 years in an area where there is a great need for Kingdom proclaimers, my wife, Janine, and I clearly saw Jehovah’s care for his people. Now, however, we have seen God’s care on a much larger scale.
I am privileged to serve on the Baton Rouge disaster relief committee as chairman. Although challenging, this assignment has given me immense satisfaction. Indeed, hundreds of times during this relief effort, our committee has seen God solve problems, open doors, and care for damaged souls in ways that only a loving, Almighty Father could.
Many have asked, “How are you and your wife still able to share in the relief work after more than two years?” It has not always been easy. We have had to make numerous adjustments in our lives. But on the positive side, we have seen the benefits that come from maintaining a ‘simple eye.’—Matthew 6:22.
When we made our first search-and-rescue missions in New Orleans, we got little rest. Complicating matters, the city was virtually under martial law because of the chaos that prevailed and the acts of random brutality that plagued the streets. It was easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the task that lay before us.
We met with thousands of Witnesses who had suffered losses. We prayed with them and tried to console them. Then, with Jehovah’s help, we got on with the work. At times, I feel as if I have lived two lifetimes in my two years here.
Time and again, just when I thought that I was exhausted beyond physical and emotional limits, a new wave of volunteers would arrive—some for a number of months, others for the long haul. To see so many joyful and willing helpers, including many young people, has been a sustaining experience.
Often, Jehovah came to our rescue. For example, early on, we discovered that trees had fallen on more than 1,000 homes of our brothers. Because we had no equipment or personnel to do the dangerous work of removing the trees, our committee prayed about the matter. The very next day, a brother with a truck and the exact piece of equipment we needed offered his services. On another occasion prayer was answered in just 15 minutes, and on yet another occasion, the equipment we prayed about was on its way before we said amen! Yes, Jehovah proved to be the “Hearer of prayer.”—Psalm 65:2.
“Proud to Be One of Jehovah’s Witnesses”
Matthew: The day after Katrina struck, I was able to help organize the delivery of 15 tons of donated food, water, and other necessities to the devastated area. Jehovah’s people certainly proved their generosity!
For our efforts to be more effective, my wife, Darline, and I moved to within a two-hour drive of the affected area. A local Witness gave us part-time secular work so that we could devote most of our time to the relief effort. Another Witness provided us with an apartment. To be a part of such a loving brotherhood fills my heart with appreciation and makes me proud to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Ted: Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, my wife, Debbie, and I volunteered to help with the relief effort. Within a few days, I found a used 28-foot [9 m long] trailer that was light enough for our truck to haul and that was also priced at half the appraised value—well within our budget and an answer to our prayers. This trailer has been our home for more than two years.
During a break in the work, we sold our house and most of our belongings, freeing us up for additional work in New Orleans, where I serve as project coordinator. A highlight of our experience has been observing how Jehovah has proved to be “the God of all comfort” for his worshippers. Many had lost not just their homes and Kingdom Halls but also, as a result of the evacuation, their congregations and even the entire territory in which they had preached the good news.—2 Corinthians 1:3.
‘Their Faith Touched Our Hearts’
Justin: In October 2005 the call went out for volunteers to help with disaster relief on the Gulf Coast. My wife, Tiffany, and I promptly turned in our applications, and in February 2006 we were invited to assist the roofing crew based at the Kenner disaster relief center near New Orleans.
Each day we would work on a certain house and meet the local Witnesses, whose faith and reliance on God touched our hearts. And daily we were powerfully reminded of the folly of trusting in material things. The joy derived from seeing what Jehovah has enabled his people to accomplish and from helping fellow Christians is beyond words.
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A Day at a Relief Center
For the kitchen crew at a disaster relief center, work begins at about 4:30 a.m. At 7:00 a.m. the whole family of workers gathers in the dining area for a ten-minute consideration of a Bible text before breakfast. The chairman might also use the occasion to welcome new arrivals and share a recent encouraging experience.
After a prayer of thanks, all enjoy a hearty breakfast and then head off to work. Some stay at the center, perhaps to work in the offices, laundry, or kitchen. The cooks prepare take-out lunches to be picked up at noon by a representative of each off-site team.
Every Monday night the “family” gathers for a Bible study based on an article in the Watchtower magazine, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such studies help all to remain spiritually strong—the secret to enduring with joy and to seeing one’s work in the proper light.—Matthew 4:4; 5:3.
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“I Have Misjudged You People”
A woman in New Orleans had a sign on her door that read: “Jehovah’s Witnesses—Do Not Call.” Then one day a crew of volunteers began to restore a hurricane-damaged house across the street from her home. Day after day she observed the warm, friendly spirit of the workers. Curiosity soon got the better of her, and she went over to investigate. On finding out that the volunteers were Jehovah’s Witnesses, she said that no one from her church had even phoned her since the hurricane. “It is obvious that I have misjudged you people,” she said. The result? The sign came down, and she invited the Witnesses to call.
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Robert and Veronica
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Frank and Veronica
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Gregory and Kathy
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Wendell and Janine
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Matthew and Darline
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Ted and Debbie
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Justin and Tiffany