Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Refugees Today and How to Help

The question why is often used when we lack understanding and want the big picture. It often is used to channel our frustrations into condemnation of one particular person or event. If we can’t find someone to blame, we end up blaming God.

Instead of asking why, we can ask what is the way forward and how can I be part of the solution.

Buduburam Refugee Camp
A refugee is defined as people who flee their country of origin and cannot return due to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion.

Migrants leave or flee their home to seek better or safer surroundings. Migration can be volunteer or forced but generally a combination of choices and constraints are involved.

The world saw a massive migration of people into Europe that sharply rose in June 2015 but still continues today. One million Syrians relocated to Europe. Five million stayed closer to home in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. (source) A quarter of a million refugees and asylum seekers left Afghanistan. (source)  The United States accepted 85,000 refugees from Myanmar between 2005-2017 (source). The United States admitted 53,716 people who are refugees seeking asylum in fiscal year 2017. (source)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thanksgiving Playlist

November is the time for heavy Christmas marketing and very few advertisers are interested in the major US Holiday of Thanksgiving. However, I think a lot of people have good feelings about Thanksgiving because family gets together and people feel more connected to each other. This playlist will help you get in the mood to really enjoy this special holiday. I purposely omitted songs about the fall season/autumn because they are neutral. These types of songs can be added to your playlist if they remind you of home. If you desire to celebrate this holiday but you live in another country, be sure to add songs of thanks or harvest from your country's folk traditions. Feel free to submit the name of a special song to you in the comments section.

Feast Songs
Thanksgiving (Instrumental) performed by Michael Silverman
Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie Polka performed by The O’Neill Brothers Group
Fly, Turkey performed by Geof Johnson
Food, Glorious Food performed by Cantus
Pass the Peas (instrumental) performed by the J.B.’s
Meat and Potato Man performed by Alan Jackson
Prayer of Thanksgiving (instrumental) performed by David Tolk

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How the Disasters Affected Me

Last September, I was invited by my local church leaders to attend a preparedness workshop offered by the city of San Antonio, TX. At this meeting I learned about the plans the city has to prepare for disasters. I learned about different recent disasters and how to get notifications during upcoming disasters. I also signed up to volunteer with the Red Cross. At the time, my local church leaders were also encouraging us to be more active in our communities.

Damage to a home in Port Aransas, TX after Hurricane Harvey
I trace my involvement with the Red Cross to these events but in addition, I must mention that I attribute divine intervention to my choice to volunteer at this time since I have so many young children at home. In December or January, I began to wonder what kind of disaster God was planning to send on my area. Not knowing the answer, I held that thought.

In August, we had three hurricanes hit the United States one after the other. In addition, Mexico experienced two earthquakes greater than 6.5 magnitude on the richter scale. Then we had a series of fires in California that burned many acres and displaced 100,000 people. While each disaster was regional, the effect was far reaching. Every disaster affected the local population as well as the family and friends who live elsewhere. In a sense, they have affected all of us. As one friend posted on Facebook before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, “I don’t know if I have the emotional energy to handle another hurricane.”
Extensive flooding from Harvey in a residential area in Southeast Texas, Aug. 31, 2017. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez
In my volunteer duties at the Red Cross, I was tasked with answering phone calls from concerned citizens who were worried about people affected by all of these major disasters except the fires. I felt their pain and I offered what resources were available usually in the form of a referral because the Red Cross defers to local authorities for leadership in disasters on US soil. I was grateful to be able to offer direct advice and sympathy in a time of great need.

TX National Guard rescuing citizens of Houston, TX after Hurricane Harvey
My Take Aways
  1. This phrase from scripture “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” became crucial in the California fires.  (D&C 88:81) The first few hours were extremely dangerous and the people who woke their neighbors up were heroes.
  2. The modern prophet’s counsel to have a month’s worth of food, water and fuel was validated as people in Houston waited in their homes to be rescued. They were given voluntary evacuation orders and then told to shelter in place. By staying in their homes, they were caught as water quickly rose after heavy rains inundated much of the city. Food and water have also been extremely valuable to the citizens of Puerto Rico who are still without power and clean water a month after the storm. Those who have food can go out and serve in other capacities. Those who don’t have it, must focus all their attention on where that next meal is located.
  3. “Be Prepared” is a Boy Scout motto. There were lots of unprepared citizens who wanted to help out in both Texas and California.  The Red Cross chapters in Texas had 6,000 citizens offer to help in Hurricane Harvey. The Red Cross chapters in California had 10,000 citizens offer to help in the wake of the fires. The problem is that during a disaster there just isn't time to train lots of people. The training isn't complicated. Much of it can be done online. However, you just can’t leave your kids with a local teen babysitter overnight who has no training any more than you can run a shelter for 5,000 without a trained shelter manager. The people who were the most helpful were trained and ready to go when the disaster hit.
  4. Seldom have I seen more opportunities for service than in September and October. Reaching out to help is good for the giver and the receiver. A lot of people were touched as citizens with private boats joined in the search and rescue effort in Houston. Others witnessed strangers come to help them remove fallen trees, sheetrock and debris. One man sacrificed his vehicle to ram through a gate blocking his community from the world because the gate was without power. People took friends and coworkers into their own homes. I saw a massive local movement to help provide food and shelter to evacuees. I saw citizens help map Puerto Rico so that aid workers could find alternative routes into devastated areas. Lots of people gave a little and some gave everything.
  5. Waiting for aid is a powerless place to be. As people in Puerto Rico waited for food, water and gasoline, they became frustrated. As the food, water and emergency supplies waited at the docks for truck drivers with gasoline to move it into affected areas, the outside observer watched and waited as well. Eventually evacuation became possible and many families with young children left the island to settle permanently in San Antonio. Waiting was not the game they wanted to play anymore.
  6. I don’t think these disasters represent the Lord’s condemnation but I could be wrong. I think the disasters are an opportunity for the good in people to come out and shine. They are an opportunity for reflection on what matters most. They are a shake-up of day-to-day living that demands change. Change is good, and change is hard.
So that is how these disasters have changed me. My life was affected directly and indirectly. My routines were changed. My family was out mucking on multiple weekends. My family and my friends’ families were in harms way and they made it. My world got a little smaller as I realized how close to home these things hit. Happiness is possible in every condition; in poverty and wealth.

photos at wikimedia and