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Katrina survivors see books as way to share message

As Hurricane Katrina survivors know, there is a great desire to know the presence of God in the midst of tragedy. For many people, natural disasters are times of questioning and searching for divine help. Reactions to Katrina’s destruction are varied. We are just beginning to see what will be a flood of books and publications that seek to use the disaster to communicate ideas about God.
Soul Storms: Finding God Amidst Disaster (Pelican, 2006; $22.99 with CD) is written by Bruce Lee Smith, a pastor of Uptown Church in New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina, the church closed and Smith founded StormKat ministries and began speaking and writing about his experience with Katrina.
Smith’s aim is to help the reader develop strategies for dealing with the storms of life, using the recovery of Hurricane Katrina as an example. Smith maintains an overly positive view of the potential for this crisis to produce a spirit of repentance and change in the culture of the Gulf South. He writes, “For those who have lost so much here in this world, and yet managed to retain their souls, all is not lost. For the Big Easy and the Gulf Coast region, this could very well be the road to the promised land.”
Smith uses the heartbreaking “storms” faced in his life as milestones of recovery. He reveals “storms” such as the death of his grandmother, the divorce of his parents, an estranged relationship with his father and his own divorce. These events are storms through which Smith struggled in his life, much like the Coast would struggle after the hurricane.
Drawing from the writings of well known people, Smith is focused on the concept that Jehovah is the God of recovery. He writes, “Jesus … does have a rebuilding plan for us.”
Smith recalls hearing T. D. Jakes preach a sermon called “I Got Carried Away.” This sermon and the faith it inspired encouraged him to go back to New Orleans. The last section of the book is a series of motivational writings to lift discouraged hearts. Concluding his thoughts about Katrina, Smith summarizes, “Whether we believe God sent Katrina, allowed Katrina, or is merely working through Katrina, the reality is the same. He is at work. He is always at work in the events of our lives.”
Soul Storm is a positive, motivational and spiritual book. Smith uses many Scriptures that will be a comfort and help to the Christian. Included with the book is an audio CD of music and testimonies by survivors. His aim seems to be toward the future and our ability to rise above our troubles to emerge as better people.
Emerging as a more prepared nation is the theme of The Politics of Disaster by Marvin Olasky (W Publishing Group, 2006; $22.99). Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Olasky is an elder in the Presbyterian church.
Olasky’s purpose is to identify mistakes made in the recovery process, primarily by government and the media. He also attempts to find better solutions for disaster response. He is focused mostly on the Katrina disaster as it played out in New Orleans. Olasky summarizes, “America is an exceptional country, but it is not exempt from the need to expect the unexpected.”
He is not entirely critical. He cites four groups that did very well during the response phase after Katrina: individual volunteers, military personnel, business employees and volunteers with religious organizations.
Olasky has strong ideas for reforming national disaster policy. These ideas fall on the far right of the political spectrum. Christians interested in conservative politics will appreciate the viewpoints. He also has strong ideas about how the world views the church, and how the church needs to work hard to overcome the perceptions of the nonreligious — especially in disaster zones.
He suggests a low-key approach toward those we are trying to help. He also lists some ways that churches can purposely plan to provide help in disaster recovery.
Olasky also addresses international disasters such as tsunamis, malaria and AIDS. Given that we have faced significant disasters in the world, and tried to intervene as faith communities, we must question our preparedness for the potentials that lie ahead.
The Politics of Disaster is primarily a book about the role politics played in the response to Katrina, how we must learn from that experience and how to cultivate strategies for coming disasters.
Act of God/Active God (Augsburg, 2001; $9.00) is written by Dr. Gary Harbough, who works with Lutheran Disaster Response. After giving examples of various disasters, Harbough affirms, “What the Bible tells us is that all that happens is not an act of God, but rather that, in all things that happen, God is active.”
Harbough seeks to encourage an openness to questions, confusion and doubt. He encourages us to realize that “God’s love for us is not based on what we have or what we do, but on who we are as a child of God.”
There are many encouragements in this book to place our trust in God, especially in a disaster. Harbough also encourages a life of prayer, Bible study and worship as sources of strength. Disasters require some to care for the caregivers. Harbough lists several questions that relate to the struggles of the caregiver.
Each of these books has different strengths. Soul Storm is more motivational; The Politics of Disaster addresses mostly political concerns of disaster recovery; and Act of God/Active God is an excellent gift for disaster victims. As a resident of the Gulf Coast, I know that many now recognize the awesome beauty to be observed when believers serve their neighbor in the name of Christ.
No one can be prepared for all of the realities of surviving a disaster. However, recovery is possible, especially with the insights shared through books like these.
JOHN DOBBS is minister of the Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, Miss., which has been active in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. He posts disaster relief updates at remains.blogspot.com and christiancrisisresources.com.
Sept. 1, 2006

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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