A couple of weeks ago, I noted the amazing “just do it” outpouring of compassion in response to the wildfires in the Central Plains. My small home town in Oklahoma was among those areas burned or seriously damaged by the fires.
Since Nov. 1, more than 363,000 acres, 220 structures and four deaths have been attributed to these wildfires. Much of the destruction has occurred on Indian trust lands within such areas as the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek and Seminole tribal jurisdictions, as well as more densely populated areas like Oklahoma City and Edmond, Okla. As of Jan. 14, there were more than 1,000 fires and in excess of 411,000 acres burned.
But counter to the culture, many of the people affected don’t consider “government help” as the first response. Nor should they. According to one report, Oklahoma officials said it took FEMA 12 days to approve the state’s request for comprehensive disaster assistance to combat wildfires.
Of course Oklahomans are grateful for the useful government help they do get, especially for those emergency firefighters. But much of the relief work could be simply categorized as neighbors and church folks helping each other. An article from the United Methodist News Service quotes my mother’s pastor in Seminole: “Most of the work that’s done here is the community working together … We had already started doing that when the fires came.” They’re already starting to rebuild homes lost in the fire.
“The community really depends on one another and uses the churches as a hinge point for relief efforts,” said Rev. Wayne Loftin, pastor of Davis United Methodist Church.
When the need goes beyond what neighbors and community can provide, then the next level of assistance in this case has been the conference-based United Methodist Committee on Relief. The efforts of multiple churches in multiple denominations contribute, too.
Don Oxford from the Davis church said, “We didn’t do anything heroic. We just do whatever we need to do.”
Would that we could all expand our own responses to the daily needs of neighbors around us, never waiting for international, national or even local agencies to show up. Dig in and get started. So many people are willing to help and in a way that helps people rebuild their lives. And this work greatly enriches personal relationships, quickly blurring the lines between helped and helper.