As Chaplain Les Palmer was descending into the Nashville area, he could immediately see the devastation. Some houses were completely submerged in water, while others just had a wet front lawn. Landmarks, like the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry have been flooded by overspill of the Cumberland River.
Before his plane touched the ground, he knew he had his work cut out for him, but he also knew that God had equipped him.
“People are asking, ‘how could this happen to me?’ This is really unexpected, since these folks do not live near flood plains,” explained Palmer.
“Many of these people have lost all of their worldly possessions. Emotions like disbelief, shock, frustration, anger, hurt and pain are all very apparent, but valid. Our job is just to come alongside them and tell them that God loves them and He has not abandoned them.”
Palmer says that most people receive their message well. “No one said they don’t want to hear what we have to say. Right now, it’s brand new, and they are still in state of shock and unbelief,” said Palmer.
“I think it’s important for us to assure them that it is perfectly normal to have these emotions – that they are ‘allowed’ to feel all of these emotions, and that they are not going crazy. Some feel as though they have lost everything. Some say ‘it is just stuff.’ So, there is a wide array of responses to this crisis.”
Working With the Local Church
The chaplains are currently working with Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers and have a temporary base set up at Global Outreach Church in Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville.
“We come along side the local churches, to help them with their needs. The pastors, in particular, need help. On top of their own personal devastation, they are also trying to help the people in their congregation who have suffered losses,” explained Palmer.
“For that very reason, there are many cases here where we really need to minister to the ministers.”
Building and Mending Relationships
He tells of one couple, Brent and Anita, who awoke around 3 a.m. to find their entire first floor submerged in water. “Anita went to the stairs, only to find that their furniture was floating in the living room. Especially having two small children, this was pretty alarming to them.”
Fortunately, their neighbors had a small boat and rescued them from a second-story window of their house. These same neighbors have continued to show kindness to them, and perhaps building a life-long bond with them, by keeping their laundry clean. “This is just one example of a great response by the community. Things like this are so wonderful to see.”
Palmer also tells the poignant story of two sisters at odds with one another for a very long time. In fact, they hadn’t even spoken in 15 years – and they lived beside one another.
“We are outside talking to one of the sisters, and during our conversation, the other sister just runs over to us, crying, and hugs her sister. It was a very touching moment.”
Palmer explained that while other agencies bring the much-needed essentials, like food and shelter, it is the job of the Rapid Response Team to bring the spiritual and emotional comfort that only Jesus can bring.
“Even still, it’s not about what we can bring, rather, it’s about Who brings us.”
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