FEMA on Faith: Welcome the Response – Reject the Reason

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all. Isaac Watts

 Harvey and Irma. The names are now indelibly etched in our memories, even more so for the thousands upon thousands negatively effected by the devastating power of these two hurricanes. The emergency funds and total man-hours required to adequately provide aid to those so in need would overwhelm the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), were it not for the willing assistance of voluntary organizations.

These non-profit organizations provide volunteer workers resulting in many hundreds of thousands man-hours, also cash donations and materials to disaster victims along side and in partnership with FEMA. (USA Today) 

Over and over again in public comments as Hurricane Harvey was soaking Texas and Louisiana, FEMA administrator Brock Long asked concerned citizens to go to NVOAD.org to make donations – that is National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, the alliance of volunteer organizations that are helping FEMA channel disaster assistance into the affected areas.

Who are these non-profit organizations? (USA Today)

“About 80% of all recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based,” said Greg Forrester, CEO of the national VOAD.  The money is “all raised by the individuals who go and serve, raised through corporate connections, raised through church connections,” and amounts to billions of dollars worth of disaster recovery assistance, he said.

Notwithstanding the oft-quoted screed about separation of church and state, FEMA not only works with faith-based organizations, but also has a Director dedicated to developing partnerships with them. (USA Today)

“FEMA can not do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based non-profit organizations and churches,” said the Rev. Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. “It’s a beautiful relationship between government and the private sector and it is something to behold.” (Emphasis added)

However, in a paradoxical twist, FEMA has refused to provide emergency funds to churches who were effected by the storm. (Christianity Today)

Hurricanes don’t discriminate. As Matthew 5:45 states, God “sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has to differentiate which victims qualify for government aid. And churches don’t make the cut.

Which is why three churches in Texas have filed suit in federal district court asking for relief (Christianity Today)

The three churches filed suit Monday in federal district court in Texas, hoping for relief before the end of FEMA’s month-long application window for Harvey victims. “Churches have been told by FEMA: We will use you, but we will not help you,” said Daniel Blomberg, an attorney for Becket, the religious liberty advocate representing the churches.

That’s the black and white of it. FEMA is more than glad to work with faith-based organizations in times of natural disasters, but turns its back on them when it comes to the distribution of relief funds.

What FEMA can’t seem to understand, is how charitable response is inextricably connected to its reason for being. 

The response of love is driven by the reason of faith, and that reason stands foremost in the elect’s hearts and minds.

For these saints of God, the reason they respond was etched upon their hearts from all eternity having been chosen by the Father, subdued by the Holy Spirit and born anew through the blood of the Son.

These faith-based volunteers love to tell the story about the Son born of a virgin, and for a little while made lower than the angels, suffering the unimaginable indignities of the human form. From Eternal Sovereign to helpless child, unable to care for himself, having no ability to communicate, incapable of even cleaning himself after a soiled diaper. The human mind cannot fathom the ultimate humiliation willfully assumed by the Son.

Those who so cheerfully give during these times of disasters could tell you about the Messiah’s lifelong rush to the Cross. How along the way, his Father looked down and pronounce his pleasure, they could tell of the wondrous miracles he performed, and of the love and grace he showed to the least among us. They could detail the late night denial of his beloved Peter, of the traitorous act of betrayal for a few bits of silver, and how he was captured in the Garden of Gethsemane and taken away.

Intimately, these of selfless volunteers could describe how their Savior was beaten and scourged with his back left bloody and in tatters. How in his rush to Golgotha, that for a time he even carried the instrument of his sacrifice. With tears in their eyes, the haunting details of being put on that cross would flow forth, a  crown of thorns shoved into his brow, being held to the cross by nails piercing his hands and feet, and even a spear being thrust into his side.

With wonderment, you would hear about their darkest of sins being laid upon him, how He who knew no sin was made to be sin, on our behalf. And finally, you would hear of the Father turning away from the cross, not being able to look upon sin, and finally in death, as the Creed describes “He descended into the grave, and on the third day, rose again.”

And while each and every one of these saints might not be equally versed or eloquent in the telling, if pressed you would hear enough to understand.

You see, what FEMA doesn’t get is these faith-based charities are made up of individual saints of God. Each wonderfully and fearfully made, each purchased with the blood of Christ, and each with an individual relationship with their King. Without which, there would be no faith-based charities.

These individuals render unto Caesar what is Caesars’, and expect only that the government deals with them in fairness and justice. For FEMA to accept their assistance yet deny relief, shows they do not understand the reason which demands the response. How wonderfully this verse can explain it to them:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

About the author

Wm. P. Fitzhenry

5th generation Texan, 2nd generation reformed Presbyterian, a twin and a serial entrepreneur.

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