March 2023
Disaster Preparedness

When Disaster Strikes

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Disaster happens around us all the time, sadly. At times we are faced with it, at times our friends and loved ones face it and other times we read about it. I have been through some disasters in my life. When my mom was pregnant with me, there was a catastrophic earthquake in Perú (I often joke that I am the way I am because of that). When I was around 5 and living in Guatemala, we lived through another catastrophic earthquake and I remember living in a tent my dad built for us in the grounds of the seminary where my dad studied because our apartment was damaged. I have been through a few hurricanes living in Texas and several tornado warnings. During these times of disaster and loss, I was so grateful that my parents are people of faith. This faith that I learned through my parents’ example and, later, through my own experiences has helped me when I am facing even the toughest of situations.

I heard Pastor Robert Johnson preach: “You are either about to enter a storm, in the middle of a storm or getting out of a storm.” I feel this deeply. And, as we are faced with these storms, how does our faith in a loving God inform our behavior? I wondered if there are rituals, prayers, songs, texts that help us while we are suffering. I wondered if there are others, like me, who try to remain calm for our children. How does my faith in Creator, Spirit, Jesus help me when I am faced with fear or uncertainty?

Because I am a person who loves to laugh, I turn to humor (like I did when talking about the devastating earthquake in Perú) even when it may not seem appropriate. Usually, I am with people I love during a disaster, so I am glad I can safely laugh even while we are crying. I turn to my favorite Bible texts (I often shorten them or don’t use the exact wording of a particular translation to make it easier to remember) and repeat them like I would a mantra, sing them, hum them, think of them, write them down, pray them.

“God is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
“God will provide all my needs.”
“I shall not fear.”
“I am protected and never alone.”
“I am loved and cherished.”

I asked my social media friends to share what they do when faced with disaster. And, before I share some of the wisdom I received from my social media friends, here are a few of the things I do to remain focused on God’s great love for me.

I sing or listen to music.
If it’s not dangerous to do so, I go outdoors; I take a walk.
I stay silent.
I take deep breaths.
I pray (cry) out loud and ‘remind’ God of their promises to me. “You promise you will protect me.” “You promise that you will never leave me.” “You promise no weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
I hold hands with someone to comfort and be comforted.
I repeat words or phrases to calm me down like “Calmness surrounds me.” “Ya.” “The Divine is with me.” “Breathe.” “My ancestors hold me.” “Mami and papi are praying for me.”
I ask my family to pray for/with me.
I talk to myself (Okay I will admit I do this all the time even when I’m not in a bad situation) like, “Ya, Sandra, cálmate.” For some reason, I feel more calm in Spanish. “Sandra, you’re good.” “Sandra, baby, no matter what happens, it will happen.”
I look at pictures or videos that help me relax – like of my great nieces or pup – they are not only the most beautiful beings in my life but the sweetest and cutest!

Here are what my friends have to share:

Pauli Reese said, “I am less focused on adding more resources to the pool of grieving so much as bearing witness – being present to a person’s experience so that they have a tangible reminder that they are not alone.”

Arvind Theodore said, “I tend to go back to the good old integrity/hosanna music.”

Rowan Larson said, “My go to song for storm of life moments is Peace Be Still, sung by the Rev. James Cleveland. On repeat until I believe it.”

Kathryn Nishibayashi said, “In all honesty, your song Todo lo puedo hacer and that Bible verse -Phillipians 4:13 - in general are two of my go-to’s.”

Hahn T. Tran said, “After a good cry and call out to God saying, ‘O, Lord, why me?’ and lamenting, ‘How long?’ I will go to Psalm 138:3, 7.”

Pam Jordan Anderson shared this prayer, 54, from the BCP, p. 831
For those we Love
Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sheri Pallas said, “I repeat, ’Thy will be done’. Knowing that your way may not be the best way, but the divine way is always for the best.”

Anahí Galante said, “I focus on Jesus suffering in Golgotha and I know he understands my pain and that there will be a Resurrection of some sort. Joy always comes in the morning, even if it takes a full week, month or season.”

Melinda Flannery posted the song “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired” by James Cleveland.

Shaneequa Brokenleg shared a prayer with me that she has found helpful. She said she typically tailors it depending on the situation.

Prayer-Shocking News
Creator, you know our hearts and share our sorrows. The news of _______ brings an emptiness into our lives. We pray for relatives, friends, and neighbors. Be gentle with us in our fear and anxiety, comfort us in our sorrow, strengthen us with hope, and breathe peace into our troubled hearts. When we are tormented by guilt or despair, help us to feel your mercy and love. When we are angry at the situation we have sustained, grant those around us a compassionate heart. When we long for words of comfort, yet find them hard to hear, grant those around us a calming presence. Creator, give us courage and strength to meet the days ahead in the comfort and knowledge of eternal life with you and all our relatives. Mitakuye Oyasin

What helps you when a disaster is close? I invite you to say with me, “I am loved. Spirit is with me. This will pass.” Or, “Love. Spirit. Pass.” May we remember that one of the promises found in the Bible is that we can move mountains with faith as small as a mustard seed. May we remember that only tiny faith is needed because of the immensity of God.

Sandra is the Spanish Language Resource Consultant at ECF. She was born in Perú, grew up in Guatemala and settled in Texas as soon as she could. Her passions are God, family (especially her son), music, education, liturgy, social and racial justice and writing. She earned her doctorate in education in 2016, her book Becoming REAL and Thriving in ministry came out in 2020 and is Dean of Chapel at Union Theological Seminary.

This article is part of the March 2023 Vestry Papers issue on Disaster Preparedness