Messages Home: Sleeves rolled up amid Montana flood damage

July 15, 2011 by

On Sunday, June 12, I completed six peaceful days in a spiritual retreat at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan.  That time to recharge turned out to be vital because by noon the next day I had received the expected phone call from the Red Cross and by 7 a.m. Tuesday, June 14, luggage in tow, I was headed to Montana for a 17-day disaster assignment.

At the airport in Bozeman, Mont., I joined seven other volunteers from throughout the U.S. who were awaiting the arrival of the “Red Cross shuttle” to the temporary headquarters in Billings.  We were joining about 60 other Red Cross volunteers who were scattered throughout the flood-ravaged areas of Montana. Volunteers were rotating in and out as they tended to managing the disaster headquarters, assessing damage from the massive May floods, opening case files to provide financial assistance, operating shelters for the flooded homeless, delivering and serving meals and supplies, warehousing, nursing, providing mental health services and on and on.

Many volunteers are retirees; some are unemployed; some are using vacation time to serve. Those who took on this assignment ranged in age from 18 to 75.

Eighteen-year-old Sean opted to waive his high school graduation party in order to be available for this disaster.  Thirty-one-year-old Martin was devoting his six weeks of vacation to his volunteer duties.  A veteran of three military tours in Iraq, Martin most recently responded as a Reservist in Japan — sleeves rolled up in the tsunami waters removing human casualties. Seventy-five-year-old Sue had just completed two weeks in Joplin, Mo., where she trained and supervised 10 four-person teams that tended to the needs of families who lost members to death in the tornado.

For me, at 65, this was my second summer responding to calls from the North Central Kansas Chapter of the Red Cross to volunteer as a Disaster Mental Health Counselor. In July 2010, I went to the Rio Grande area of Texas to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Alex.

This summer it was the Crow Reservation, south and east of Billings, and more flooding.

In the course of my 17 days, I physically re-located seven times. My luggage remained packed and ready for the next site to serve.

Since my primary role within Red Cross is that of mental health, I remain attentive to the pulse of those directly affected by the disaster, as well as the volunteers who are tending to the victims of the disaster.  What an awesome match for me as I continue to live the Gospels as expressed by my Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia: loving God and neighbor without distinction! It just seems so natural for me to show up, be present and keep my sleeves rolled up.

I traveled with another volunteer, Cheri, into homes for disaster assessment and to support her and the families as she opened cases.  While she was documenting the facts, I listened to human stories of loss, of waiting and of destruction. While we were driving to another home, I listened with Cheri as she de-briefed in readiness for the next assessment and potential case opening. She was in her first Red Cross assignment, and she said I helped keep her sane. We were a splendid team!

With the exception of my Red Cross peers, all of my interactions were with men, women and children among the Crow Tribe. The shelter and the homes we visited were all on the reservation; the interactions I had each day with flooded households included only the Crow. We volunteers were blessed to have a Native American liaison with Red Cross to assist in bridging gaps between the ways of “white privilege” and the Crow.

Another way to work at bridging those gaps is through the children. One such experience was a day when I was reading a book with — versus to — a child and responding to the child’s questions about my hair texture and skin color, while one of the adults in the family initially listened close by, That allowed the window of trust to open with the adult, and hands and names and hugs were more easily reciprocated when I eventually introduced myself to the rest of the family.

As I was saying my goodbyes on my last day, one of the tribal members told me, “Just when we get used to a person, they leave.”

Three weeks later, that man and his family of five remained homeless and were still living in the shelter, separated from the familiarity of their food and ways within their own home. Those same three weeks later, I am among the blessed to have a home to return to, with a heart filled with graced and priceless moments.

— Sister Loretta Jasper is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan. The Cawker City native holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and a post-graduate certificate in play therapy from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.  For the past two years, she has worked in a government-funded program that provides support for military families where one parent is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. She will return to that job when school begins in the fall.

Comments

4 Responses to “Messages Home: Sleeves rolled up amid Montana flood damage”

  1. Chris Meyer on July 17th, 2011 11:14 am

    Loretta, thanks for your presence among those in need. I love hearing your stories.

  2. Diane Brin on July 16th, 2011 5:50 pm

    Loretta, am just catching up now that my pc is up and running. Thanks for the work you are doing on our behalf. Your descriptions are so vivid it almost makes me feel like I am with you and of course I am there in spirit. My best.

  3. Jodi Creten on July 16th, 2011 8:22 am

    Great ministry of simply being present, Loretta, and those sleeves ever rolled for service.

  4. Beth Stover on July 15th, 2011 1:57 pm

    How awesome, Loretta! Thanks for being present and being our presence among the Crow people in their time of need.
    Blessings!
    Beth

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