One Great Hour of Sharing

There is an article on the website of The Atlantic that focuses on recent flooding in the Missouri Basin. Here in South Dakota the Missouri is flowing within its banks. A couple of major tributaries, however, have been in flood stage and throughout the southeastern corner of the state fields and ditches are full of water. Downstream, in Iowa and Nebraska, the flooding is much worse. The article in the Atlantic notes that some of the flooding ha reached historic levels, which is saying a lot because the region experienced major flooding just a few years ago. This has been a winter with some record-setting conditions. We’ve seen a lot of cold temperatures and when the runoff began here, the ground was still frozen so the melting snow couldn’t sink in. It headed downstream.

The article in the Atlantic raises a question that I hadn’t considered: Should this flood event be labeled a natural disaster? My first reaction to the question was to think, “Well, of course.” Flooding is by definition a natural disaster. The article questions the label because placing the blame on nature absolves humans of responsibility and this particular area is a place of human suffering because of decisions humans have made. Floods occur. They have been part of the Missouri basin for all of history. What makes them into disasters is that we have filled the flood plains with human homes and activities. Over the past century, human engineers have sought to control Missouri flooding with dams and levees. We have formed habits and building codes and agricultural practices that are based on the belief that we can control the floods. The river is teaching us otherwise. We have failed to learn from the past enough to keep ourselves from harm’s way. The best flood-control systems and structures cannot completely eliminate the risk of flooding.

We are nearing a century since the great flood of 1927. In that century we have actually been more dependent upon the National Flood Insurance Program than on dams and spillways and structures. American build homes and other buildings in flood plains in part because they can be reimbursed for damage caused by natural disasters.

After each season of flooding we are inspired by the ways in which neighbors help neighbors to rebuild. Too often, however, the rebuilding contains the repetition of previous mistakes.

I’ve been thinking of the flooding because it is on the mind of so many people in our region. We respond with compassion and assistance. We gather up cleaning supplies and head to the places where the need is the greatest. We roll up our sleeves and get to work. It is a part of our Midwestern values. We are resilient people.

The floods in Nebraska and Iowa and the flooding that is yet to come downstream pales, however, when compared with the aftermath of the cyclone that roared across southern Africa. The overall death toll has topped 700 people, with more than 400 killed in Mozambique, more than 250 in Zimbabwe and more than 50 in Malawi. And these are preliminary figures. According to the United Nations the casualty reports cannot be completed until the flood waters recede. Thousands remain trapped by the floodwaters. As many as 1.7 million people have been affected, most of whom are living without running water or electricity in the aftermath of the storm.

I remember a conversation of adults from when I was a child. Our church was preparing for Palm Sunday and Easter. As is still true, part of our Lenten discipline was raising awareness and funds for One Great Hour of Sharing. There was a filmstrip that has been obtained in our church that was showing scenes of devastation from natural disasters around the world. I remember seeing a picture of people covered in mud standing in a crowd at the edge of a river. The conversation of the adults was whether or not showing the filmstrip was appropriate. Some said that it would upset us children. They argues that Palm Sunday and Easter should be celebrations and that children should be involved in waving palms, calling out “Hosanna!” and searching for Easter Eggs. The filmstrip of suffering people was an unnecessary downer in a season of joy. Others, who included my parents, argued that concern for the suffering of others and providing what assistance we were able was an essential part of the Gospel message and should be taught in Sunday School. I guess that side of the argument prevailed because I remember seeing the filmstrip. And I remember the annual discipline of coin banks and taking our paper banks to the church with our offerings to help with those who suffered from disaster.

Living in Rapid City has increased my awareness of the need to respond to disaster. Although it occurred decades before I moved to the city, the 1972 Rapid City Flood claimed the lives of 238 and left a swath of destruction through the middle of our city. People who lived here at that time all have stories of that disaster and its aftermath. When it is time to raise funds for One Great Hour of Sharing or the Blanket Fund, people in Rapid City remember when they were the recipients of disaster aid and what it meant that the church was prepared in advance for the disaster.

One Great Hour of Sharing is, in part, a confession that we don’t know where or when the next disaster will strike. What we do know is that we haven’t figured out how to keep all people safe and that we will be called upon again and again to respond to those who have needs. We receive the offering every year so that funds and supplies can be ready when the next disaster strikes.

Perhaps, along with our preparedness, we need to learn from the events that we experience. Perhaps when we rebuild we should be more judicious about where and how we rebuild. For now we watch with prayer and concern as the floodwaters rise. And we continue to teach ourselves and our children about sharing through One Great Hour.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!