It’s an Emergency!

On March 13, President Trump declared a “State of Emergency” for the entire United States as a response to COVID-19. We are still living under the implications of that declaration.

As one with experience in The Salvation Army’s Emergency/Disaster Services (EDS), I have been contemplating what that means for Salvation Army Officers.

First, it should be said that The Army’s first responders following a tornado, hurricane, flood, etc. are local personnel –who themselves have been impacted by the natural disaster. Consider the heroic service of Puerto Rican officers who provided services after recent hurricanes and earthquakes even though their own homes were without power and water. With COVID-19, every active officer is immersed in a local emergency situation of some sort.

In the case of large-scale disasters, local personnel are quickly reinforced with experienced EDS workers who arrive from other locations to deliver relief efforts. With this emergency, though, help is NOT on the way; everyone is impacted in some way; and no-one can travel to provide reinforcements.

One of the important factors in EDS is respite. Teams sent into disaster areas seldom serve more than two weeks. Incident Commanders evaluate whether local personnel need to be told to step aside to avoid physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Adrenalin runs out after awhile and “crashes” happen if respite isn’t provided. One of the factors in our current emergency is that this state of emergency is now eight weeks long. All front line Officers have been serving under extreme circumstances, facing the impact on their own family well-being, without relief from other places. Respite is needed.

And then there’s recovery. EDS teams sometimes stay put after relief efforts are concluded to assist in recovery efforts (although the major burden falls on local personnel). In such instances, there continues to be support services provided from DHQ and THQ, funding is made available, perhaps staff are added who are dedicated to recovery efforts, etc. Local service provision infrastructure is usually the platform on which recovery efforts are built. But, here, we do not know what “recovery” means, when it starts, or what will remain of the local service infrastructure. And since it is a pandemic, we are all in the same boat; there’s no team above dedicated to my local situation.

These are the 3 R’s of EDS – relief, respite, recovery. May I suggest to active officers that you use that framework to keep well during this emergency?

  1. Relief — let others help you. You are not alone. Believe it or not, there are people around you who want to support you, even though they are impacted by COVID-19 mitigation requirements. Consider the fact that they may have a need to be involved even more than you need the help.
  2. Respite — do not neglect your own self-care. The truth is that The Army is not adept at providing pastoral care to active officers. Healthy officers have learned to attend to their own emotional, physical and spiritual needs. The importance of doing this is heightened when our usual emotional and physical outlets are foreclosed to us, and when we are sequestered with family. Airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first so you can help others. The same principal applies to ministry: stay emotionally and spiritually healthy to best serve your flock. Take care of yourself!
  3. Recovery — planning is always difficult in this fast-changing world. Planning for life after COVID-19 is perplexing. But with the extra time accorded by the restrictions on normal life, perhaps you can brainstorm about what to do when restrictions are fully lifted. What changes will you have to make? What changes will be possible? What advantage can you take from lessons learned and skills developed (virtual ministry, e.g.) during these days?

And remember, there are a host of us praying for you!

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