Whether immigrants or U.S.-born, Hurricane Sandy survivors are trying to navigate a road to recovery.
By Susan Kim*
February 21, 2013—Caught in a hurricane in St. Lucia, Claire Chichester will never forget seeing the earth move in a circle. “The winds were so strong and had so much spin that the building I was in and the building across the road leaned into each other,” she said. “The sound it made was like a bomb going off.”
She stood and helplessly watched the once-straight road crumple into a circular shape.
“But when the storm was finished, the buildings rocked back on their surfaces. The road came back together again like it never parted.”
Miraculously, Chichester emerged unscathed. But the memory has stayed with her for decades. Chichester became a US citizen after many years of living in Panama. Trained as a case manager through UMCOR, she has a special empathy for immigrants who survive disasters away from their home countries.
During the Lenten season, we wait through the darkest, most chaotic of times the way Claire Chichester waited and watched while the road below her roiled with the storm and, miraculously, straightened out again. The damaged road would never be the same but it would become, once more, navigable.
For many immigrants, Hurricane Sandy has brought about an uncertainty that feels chaotic. “A lot of people, when they leave their country to come here, they sell everything they have to raise the funds,” said Chichester. When Hurricane Sandy hit, many immigrants—already on a fragile financial edge—were plunged into more economic stress.
The church is bringing them hope that, through collapse and chaos, they will emerge on a road that is navigable—never the same, but navigable.
The Rev. Matt Schaeffer, pastor at Bethel UMC on Staten Island, NY, has been coordinating volunteer teams who are reaching out to Hurricane Sandy survivors. The volunteers have been helping immigrants and US-born people alike. In the eyes of the church, hurricane survivors are people, no matter what category they check for their citizenship.
“We're not focusing on nationality,” said Schaeffer. “Churches are helping people on an individual basis. We don't differentiate.”
An often hidden challenge for immigrants, he said, is that undocumented persons are reluctant to reveal that they need help, particularly to the Federal Emergency Management Agency or any other government agency.
Claire Chichester agreed. “Sometimes immigrants go underground because they are afraid of what could happen,” she said.
As Hurricane Sandy relief continues—and long-term recovery is barely beginning—many of them are still afraid of what could happen: will the road ever become navigable again?
In the Lenten season, we often think about our own roads. What will we give up to change our path? Perhaps, from the perspective of Hurricane Sandy recovery, the question may be: what will we do to help the road become navigable for someone else?
Support UMCOR as it helps Hurricane Sandy survivors in the midst of chaos. Please give to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.