Why Christians are the 'first responders'

Posted: Sep 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Reporters covering the evacuation of New Orleans last week have noticed an interesting phenomenon. People who have lost everything are staying in shelters. And who are running those shelters? Churches.

Christians were the first to arrive on the scene—literally the first responders—the first to help with the devastation in New Orleans, even before the first government assistance arrived. And Christians shouldn’t be surprised at this, even if reporters are.

Because throughout history, Christians have been passionate about human dignity. We believe all humans are made in the image of God. This is why Christians throughout history have rescued abandoned babies, fought slavery, and passed child labor laws. Today, we care equally for the mother dying of AIDS in Africa, the six-year-old sex slave in Thailand, and the homeless family in New Orleans.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers are also caring for a segment of the population that hasn’t gotten much sympathy: prisoners and their families.

Angola Prison, a huge, maximum-security prison near Baton Rouge, has faced the burden of housing several thousand displaced prisoners from New Orleans. Most of these prisoners will live in tent cities set up on the grounds of Angola. Richard Payne, Prison Fellowship’s national director of Operation Starting Line, along with a group of volunteers are driving a trailer filled with toothbrushes, soap, towels, socks, blankets, and water from North Carolina to Angola.

Prison Fellowship-Alabama has also responded by housing Katrina victims. Until Katrina hit, Alabama field director Deborah Daniels had been working on a project to convert an abandoned nursing home into transitional housing for ex-offenders. Now she’s preparing the home to serve as temporary housing for some 350 displaced persons arriving from New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi.

And we haven’t forgotten the children of prisoners, either. Jean Bush, Prison Fellowship’s executive director for Louisiana, contacted many of the 195 Angel Tree churches in the state’s northern and central parishes to help provide housing for evacuees. She’s also found a way to provide Bibles for any who want them.

We recognize that local churches will not be able to carry out Angel Tree at Christmas this year as planned. So, Prison Fellowship has already begun a national campaign to raise funds to locate the now displaced Angel Tree children and to purchase gifts for them.

As the story of Hurricane Katrina begins to fade out of the news, as it inevitably will, we must not let our memories fade with it. Loving our neighbor requires perseverance. Those rendered homeless by Katrina will need help for years to come—and as we have recently seen, we cannot always rely on government help. Are we, the Church, willing to stick it out that long—to love our neighbor for as long as it takes? Yes, it’s easy to write a check—I’m sure we have all done that. But are we also willing to take people into our homes, to feed them, baby-sit their kids, help them find a job?

Christians reaching out to those who suffer offer a tremendous witness to secular observers—a witness to the fact that throughout history, whenever there are people who suffer, it is Christians, just like now in New Orleans, who are the “first responders.”

For further reading and information:

Please help send critical supplies to Louisiana prisons. Read about the prison in Angola.

Learn more about Operation Starting Line and Angel Tree.

International Aid, a Christian relief agency, is a first-responder to Hurricane Katrina: Learn how you can help the victims.

Learn how you can help pregnancy resource centers in Louisiana.

First Presbyterian Church in Vicksburg, MS, is delivering survival supplies directly to victims of Hurricane Katrina. To help, make checks payable to: First Presbyterian Church—Hurricane Relief, 1501 Cherry St., Vicksburg, MS 39180. Or e-mail Joe Stradinger (a 2004 Wilberforce Centurion): joe@stradinger.com or  Mike Doyle (Operations Director at FPC) mike@fpcvicksburg.org.

Anne Morse, “Desperate & Incarcerated: Katrina’s prison toll,” National Review Online, 8 September 2005.

Ralph Blumenthal, “‘Prison City’ Shows a Hospitable Face to Refugees from New Orleans,” New YorkTimes, 6 September 2005.

Wil Haygood, “For Wandering Souls, Shiloh Is Salvation,” WashingtonPost, 11 September 2005, D01.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050908, “From the Depths to the Heights: Reconciling Human Behavior.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031103, “Mankind Is Our Business: Christians and Human Rights.”

Virginia Postrel, “In Times of Stress, Can Religion Serve as Insurance?New York Times, 8 September 2005.

Gary Smith, “Dark Days,” Sports Illustrated, 12 September 2005. (This article is about Desire Street Academy Community, a ministry in New Orleans.)

David Brooks, “Katrina’s Silver Lining,” New York Times, 8 September 2005.

Noam Scheiber, “Poverty Line,” New Republic, 9 September 2005.

Steven E. Landsburg, “No Relief: Why we shouldn’t aid Katrina’s victims too much,” Slate, 7 September 2005.