Another Kind of Politics

While America debates the economy and politics, and it seems to occupy front burner on everyone’s mind, another quieter form of politics goes on unnoticed.  Its the politics of personally making a difference, at often great cost to self and no cost to the recipient.

I met the most amazing couple the other day.  They started disaster relief work in the 1980s and continue to this day.  They have a nonprofit which exists for the sole purpose of providing relief in as many American disasters as possible.  They have traveled to tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and ice storms.  Their assets include a warehouse, a “feeding unit” trailer, a laundry trailer and a chainsaw trailer.  They assist anytime they are called by one of the national disaster relief agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief), as long as they aren’t already gone on another disaster.  This couple has taken all sorts of disaster training, and are licensed as ham radio operators.  Oh yes, how do they fund their ministry?  They use some of their warehouse space to operate a thrift store.  This way they can help the poor in their community by selling needed items in good condition for pennies on the dollar, while their small profit funds their travel to disasters, and new equipment.  They bought their feeding, laundry and chain saw trailers with those profits as well as donations.

When they go to a disaster, they take sleeping bags and a crew to drive the vehicles.  They sleep in a host church, on the floor, in their sleeping bags.  They use the church bathrooms, but take showers in their shower/laundry trailer.  They set up their feeding unit, and sometimes in partnership with another feeding unit, are able to prepare up to 25,000 meals a day.  These are served in styrofoam containers,which they transport to feeding sites in temperature controlled “cambros” using trucks and other vehicles.  Often they are the sole “kitchen” for several emergency shelters.

They take a couple dozen people with them to assist in the work.  The team stays on site 7-10 days on average and works 15 hour days with no days off.  This involves sleeping on floors, using portable showers and eating the same meals they are putting in styrofoam containers.

What is the payoff?  Their very modest salary as ministry directors.  For the volunteers, nothing.  The volunteers pay to get themselves to and from the worksite, usually taking their own vehicles.  Why do they do it?  Simply put, they love Jesus, who told them “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”  They hope some of the people they help will see the love of Jesus at work and want to know Jesus for themselves.  But they help everyone, without question and without any strings attached.

I learned they are just one of a network of such disaster relief nonprofits, mostly Christian, which cover the entire United States, and are the lifeblood of disaster relief.  I also learned that a lot of hotel and restaurant chains would do the same work for millions of dollars from FEMA –the same work that is today done at no cost to anyone but the nonprofits.

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